Texas Auto Center began fielding complaints from baffled customers
the last week in February, many of whom wound up missing work, calling
tow trucks or disconnecting their batteries to stop the honking. The
troubles stopped five days later, when Texas Auto Center reset the
Webtech Plus passwords for all its employee accounts, says Garcia. Then
police obtained access logs from Pay Technologies, and traced the
saboteur’s IP address to Ramos-Lopez’s AT&T internet service,
according to a police affidavit filed in the case.
Ramos-Lopez’s account had been closed when he was terminated from
Texas Auto Center in a workforce reduction last month, but he allegedly
got in through another employee’s account, Garcia says. At first, the
intruder targeted vehicles by searching on the names of specific
customers. Then he discovered he could pull up a database of all 1,100
Auto Center customers whose cars were equipped with the device. He
started going down the list in alphabetical order, vandalizing the
records, disabling the cars and setting off the horns.
“Omar was pretty good with computers,” says Garcia.
The incident is the first time an intruder has abused the no-start
system, according to Jim Krueger, co-owner of Pay Technologies. “It was
a fairly straightforward situation,” says Krueger. “He had retained a
password, and what happened was he went in and created a little bit of
Krueger disputes that the horns were honking in the middle of the
night; he says the horn honking can only be activated between 9 a.m.
and 9 p.m.
First rolled out about 10 years ago, remote immobilization systems are a controversial answer
to delinquent car payments, with critics voicing concerns that debtors
could suffer needless humiliation, or find themselves stranded during
an emergency. Proponents say the systems let financers extend credit to
consumers who might otherwise be ineligible for an auto loan.
Austin police filed computer intrusion charges against Ramos-Lopez on Tuesday.