HUNDREDS of motorists in the Strabane area have been affected by an apparent ‘key-jamming’ event.
Believed to be tech-savvy thieves attempting to prevent people from locking their cars, the phenomenon began on Monday and has continued throughout the week.
Understandably believing their key fobs to be low on battery power, a huge number of motorists presented at local locksmiths requesting battery changes. However in most cases, the car-key batteries were not defective.
‘Something going on’
“We would normally change about half a dozen batteries in a week,” Malcolm Boyd from North West Locks in Strabane explained.
“But on Monday we had about 15 people in and on Tuesday morning we had another ten.
“It hasn’t cooled since.”
He continued, “But nine times out of ten there was nothing wrong with the batteries in the keys, so there’s definitely something going on.”
‘Key-jamming’ was widely reported in England as a growing crime in the run up to Christmas last year.
Mr Boyd, who reported his suspicions to police on Tuesday, believes the would-be thieves are now taking aim at local motorists.
“It’s Christmas shoppers they’re targeting,” he said. “Altogether we’ve had about 70 customers in – which is unbelievable.
“But since we realised what was happening we started to put the feelers out and this sort of thing has been reported before. There have been a number of incidents.
“People just have to be vigilant. Once they hit the button on the car key, go round the car to make sure it’s locked. It’s the only way.
“We’re also offering a free service to test people’s batteries, if they think there is a problem.”
Readily available to purchase online, the jamming devices reportedly have a range of up to 75m, which means a relatively large car park can be affected at one time.
Across the town at Caldwell Motor Factors and it was much the same.
Pascal Coyle said they had an “unprecedented” number of people in looking for batteries changed.
He relayed the story of a member of staff who travelled into the town centre to help a lady who was struggling to get her car fob working but then couldn’t open his own car to make the return journey.
“It seems as though it was isolated to the town centre,” he said.
“It’s very strange. I informed the police and I asked if there was a problem in-house or if a piece of equipment had fallen into the wrong hands.
“We changed about 50 batteries easily. To be quite honest, I thought it was something to do with the weather.
“Maybe we were slow to react but we didn’t think of the security end of things until later.
“Now we’re telling people about what’s happening but even then the majority of them are buying batteries just in case.”