In late January 2011, I began this column with these words: “It’s not enough to press the lock button on your car remote and walk away, thinking that what’s hidden in the boot is safe.


Many of us lock our cars and never check whether it is locked or not. In this illustration a man holds a normal home remote to jam a car immobilser. File photo: Paballo Thekiso

“Thanks to a new signal-jamming tactic being used by thieves, you may be unwittingly leaving your car unlocked, allowing thieves to help themselves to your valuables within seconds of your departure.”

It was then that I first heard of the phenomenon of remote jamming, thanks to several victims who shared their experiences with me.

What the thieves do is monitor people in parking lots. As the car owner prepares to press the lock button on the remote control to lock the car, the thieves activate their own remotes – operating on the same frequency. This interferes with the signal and prevents the car from being locked.

The receiver in the car doesn’t recognise the “strange” interfered-with signal from its known transmitter remote control and simply doesn’t react.

The car owner doesn’t notice the car hasn’t locked and walks away from it.


Despite ongoing media coverage of remote jamming, its incidence is increasing, sadly, which suggests that awareness of the phenomenon is lacking.

Nicole O’Neill of Cape Town’s “remote jamming” experience happened at the worst possible time.

“We were on a family holiday to Magaliesberg and Hazyview, and after an amazing day of game driving and exploring caves, we stopped at the Spar in Pecanwood (Hartbeespoort) for a few supplies. We were in the shop for less than 15 minutes and when we got back we discovered that people had blocked our vehicle’s locking system and taken our rucksack out of the boot with everything inside – iPad, camera, video camera, sunglasses and wallet.”

She claimed from their insurer, but the claim was repudiated on the grounds that they had neglected to lock the car.

Most insurance policies state that theft-from-motor vehicle claims will only be honoured if there was forced entry – it is the owner’s responsibility to ensure that the car is locked.

“We are in a situation now where we can’t go out and spend R30 000 replacing all those items – in fact, I am still paying one of them off,” O’Neill said.

“I cannot understand how an insurer will not consider all the circumstances before just summarily closing the matter.

“We have paid our insurance premiums every month without fail, have never claimed, but then when disaster strikes we are literally thrown under the bus.


“I know that the onus lies with the policy holder to understand the terms and conditions of their policy, but at no time have we received an update or a letter from our insurer to guard against things like this.

“We were honestly not aware of remote jamming – living in Cape Town did not prepare us for it.”

So, three years on, have insurers adapted their policies to recognise the phenomenon of remote jamming?

Motor manager at the SA Insurance Association Dawie Buys said “almost all” insurance policies still required “evidence of violent and forcible entry into the vehicle” in order for the theft of items from a car to be covered.

“Motorists victimised by car jammers who remotely break into their cars and steal their belongings could have their insurance claims refused because their cars were technically unlocked,” he said.

Here’s the important bit: “Each matter will be dealt with on its own merits, depending on the circumstances and the provisions of the policy’s wording, and it remains the prerogative of the various insurers to decide whether they want to cover such claims or not.

“Most insurers will consider and accept the claim if the insured is in a position to provide additional information and evidence such as film from a close-circuit camera, which may be available in places such as the forecourts of petrol stations and some shopping centre parking areas.”


Only a few insurers had informed and warned their clients about remote jamming, Buys said.

The association has been liaising with the police and Business Against Crime with the view to finding a solution to the problem, Buys said.

“We have also formed a task team and together with our service provider which manages our vehicle security list, we are talking to the security committee of the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA, to see if something can be done to address the problem of remote control jamming by changing the frequencies on which car remote controls are running.”

The bad news is that there’s no solution on the horizon, mainly because all frequencies in South Africa are controlled by the Independent Communications Authority of SA.

Meanwhile, the advice remains the same: pay very close attention when you use your remote to lock your car. Don’t just press the button absent-mindedly while talking on your cellphone with your back to your car.

Make very sure that the car has in fact responded to that remote control signal by locking the doors.

And find out what your insurer’s stance on remote jamming is.

With holiday season a couple of weeks away, insurers should warn their clients about remote jamming, and outline their policy regarding claims arising from it. -Pretoria News

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