When Njeri Njiru walked out of a salon at T-Mall, Nairobi West at 8.20pm on June 12, she had no idea how close she was to mortal danger.
Reaching for the car door, she felt a slippery, jelly-like substance on the handle, but didn’t read much into it. She got into her car, wiped the sticky substance off her hand and drove out of the parking, a silver-coloured Toyota NZE behind her.
But on reaching the South C flyover on Mombasa Road, she started feeling drowsy and became suspicious the sticky substance on her car door could have been a drug.
Her survival instincts kicked in. She sped to the Capital Centre, grabbed the guard’s hand at the gate and handed him her husband’s number before she passed out.
The next thing she remembers is waking up in hospital two hours later, her husband by her side, a drip in her arm. The doctor said she had been poisoned by an extremely strong drug that knocks out victims within minutes. She reported the matter to Lang’ata Police Station the next day.
“When I think about the ordeal, my heart starts racing. I am very lucky to be alive today. My advice, especially for women driving alone or with small children, is to always exercise caution and be vigilant. Women are particularly vulnerable because they are considered easy prey,” says Njeri.
Her close shave is one of the latest in the bag of tricks used by carjackers who are changing tack by the day and strike with shocking ingenuity and ruthlessness – sometimes brazenly in broad daylight.
Apart from drugging victims, these thugs also unscrew car registration plates in parking lots. When drivers of the cars pull out, they follow behind, hooting and waving the plates at them. It is when you stop to retrieve the plate and thank the ‘good Samaritan,’ that they strike, mercilessly.
They have even gone digital. Nelly Adika parked her car on Njugu Lane, off Koinange Street, last April a few minutes past 6pm. She was late for her evening classes and was lucky to get parking.
She picked her handbag and got out of her car, pressed the button on the central locking key and sauntered to class, confident the two sharp beeps from the car was confirmation enough the car was secure.
Two hours later, after leaving class, Nelly spent another 30 minutes in a nearby supermarket shopping before heading to her car laden with groceries. But alas! The two-month-old Toyota wasn’t where she had parked it.
“At first, I thought I was mistaken, that I might have parked it elsewhere, and started looking around. Eventually, it dawned on me that my car had been stolen,” says Nelly.
It is now that she recalls that when she pressed the ‘lock’ button on the key, she heard the car’s lock signal, but didn’t actually hear the doors lock. She is yet to recover the car, even though she has to service a loan for the vehicle.
Vincent Abwao, an IT expert, says that with the right equipment, the millisecond between the beeps from a car’s central locking system and the lock pins actually slamming shut is sufficient to hijack the process using a hand-held Chinese ‘jammer.’ Retailing for as little as Sh7, 000, the gizmo blocks the electronic signal sent by the central locking key.
“With the frequency jamming device, thieves can jam frequencies so that while the alarm beeps, the doors do not lock. Once you walk away, they simply get into your car, hot wire it and drive off,” says Abwao. Some of the devices can be effective from as far as 100 meters.
Code grabbing devices
Israeli-trained security consultant Richard Tuta, says high-tech thieves even use ‘code grabbing’ devices to gain access into high-end vehicles with keyless systems and push start buttons.
“The car alarm button on your key exchanges signals with your car alarm receiver using a specific code. Those signals are carried by radio waves that have a specified frequency. The code tells your car to lock or unlock a specific part, be it the doors or the boot,” explains Tuta.
He reveals that car thieves use devices that act as a ‘code grabber’. They read the transmission and ‘grab’ the code. Once they crack the code, they can send signals to your car to open the doors or boot automatically.
“Alarm systems are not foolproof. What most people don’t realize is that it is so easy override them. Anything that is designed by man can be easily countered, no matter how complex they may look. The truth of the matter is that alarm systems and tracking devices can be disabled in less than 10 minutes,” says Tuta.
“Alarms are simply meant to let you know that someone has touched or tampered with your car. But of what help is it if you are busy in a pub drinking, while your car is getting stolen on another side of town Kenyans need to be more inventive and device other means of securing their cars.
Technology can let you down, it’s never 100 percent guaranteed. Lock your gears, secure your steering wheels and pay the watchman something to keep an eye on your car. It’s not worth losing a brand new vehicle just because you wouldn’t part with Sh20 for the guard,” adds the expert.
Head of Flying Squad Nyale Munga, while acknowledging the existence of loopholes in the spare parts licensing process, which unscrupulous dealers exploit to sustain the black market business, says, “We are aware of cartels that dismantle stolen vehicles because of lack a proper regulatory mechanism within the spare parts sub-sector,” he adds.
On a single day in the city, the Flying Squad handles on average five cases involving stolen vehicles and tampering with chassis or registration number plates.
“We arrest and take these culprits to court, but it is business as usual as soon as they bail themselves out. It really demoralizes and makes the work of police officers difficult,” he says.
Police want the law changed and harsh penalties introduced to deal with those found dealing with or in possession of stolen cars.