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RV Burglary! We’ve Been Ripped Off!

| Updated Jun 19, 2023

Seven minutes is all it took for our RV to be burglarized, to lose $12,000 and counting worth of equipment – just about everything of value inside the motorhome except the dog.

Yes, just seven minutes.

That's all it took for the bad guys to come into our space and take our stuff.

We know it was only seven minutes, too, from our dash cam recording most of it.

But as Jennifer notes, what they physically took are only things. The stuff is just that – stuff.

And, yes, it isn't fun, but it is life and when things like this happen, you have two choices: bury your head in the sand or learn from it and move on.

So we move on.

We WILL continue with our trip out west along Route 66. 

Please note: this RV burglary happened in 2015, but the lessons are timeless, and we have an Update at the end…

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Stuff was strewn about everywhere

 Jennifer and I will use this horrible experience to hopefully benefit you and talk about what – if anything – could have possibly been done differently.

Among other things, we hope you realize:

  • How one piece of tech – my dash cam – may have recorded the thieves in action and end up providing a lead to crucial evidence to catch them. You should have one, too.
  • How you should always be sure your doors are locked when leaving, but new tech used by the bad guys might make even that easy to bypassbreakin1 (1 of 1)
  • How you should prepare your personal computer in case of emergency/theft
  • How the theft was able to happen, even with our dog still in the RV
  • Why you need to check the coverage limits of your RV insurance policy for personal effects right NOW
  • Why you should be aware of the communities in which you are stopping
breakin3 (1 of 1)

Our RV was Burglarized in Illinois

It happened just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis in Collinsville, Ill., when we stopped for dinner at about 6:15 p.m. at a restaurant in a busy shopping mall off Interstate-55. It was a pretty upscale mall, too, with lots of well-known stores and restaurants and traffic.

While we were inside eating, at least two thieves somehow gained entry to our Class B campervan and, in about seven minutes, took more than $12,000 worth of electronic gear from our rig – including all of the video and still cameras and most of the mobile podcasting studio gear I had taken for the trip.

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The video showed this man walking back and forth, peering inside and then disappearing off to the left, seconds after someone entered the vehicle from that direction. Under his left arm he is carrying what appears to be a hammer or some sort of burglary tool.

Police blamed gangs from nearby East St. Louis. A guy towing a U-Haul who also stopped for dinner and parked a few spaces down was also hit. They smashed a window out to gain entry to his vehicle and also took a computer.

It turns out, though, that my dash cam may have captured an image of one of the thieves who looked to be casing our RV. A “person of interest” can be clearly seen on the dash cam peering in the front.

A closeup of what he is carrying
A closeup of what he is carrying

Under his left arm he is carrying what may be burglary tools. It looks like a hammer wrapped up in a towel and some sort of device.

Seconds before he walked out of sight, someone entered from the side and was joined by an accomplice. I've given the evidence over to the police. They would like to identify and talk to the person seen here.

Alas, because the dash cam pointed outward, we did not get an image of the thieves who were inside. The dash cam did record some of their audio. They can be heard talking nicely to Tai, who, knowing him, was probably delighted by the company.

The inside was totally ransacked. Every cupboard was opened and all the contents strewn about. You can hear the thieves delighting over the laptops. “What's this,” one of them asked, followed by the sounds of things falling to the floor.

I can't begin to describe how incredibly sad it is to hear these lowlifes talking so casually about the things they were finding and stealing. They laughed and sounded totally at ease. In Jennifer's tote bag were some personal items, things of absolutely no value or meaning to the thieves, but things that were meaningful to her.

Both of our laptops, an iPad, chargers, my professional video camera, my high-end Canon 5D Mark III DSLR camera with a memory card full of Route 66 photos, my multichannel podcast mixing board, a Rand McNally GPS, a portable printer, and all sorts of cables and stuff like a backpack, Jennifer's tote bag and even my shower soap, shampoo and deodorant were taken.

When we came back out from the restaurant about 7:03 PM, the thieves were gone and our dog, Tai, looked stressed. He knew stuff wasn't supposed to be tossed all over the RV. Fortunately, the thieves did not hurt him. As I mentioned, they can be heard talking soothingly to him as they stole our stuff.

After police took our report, I went to a nearby Best Buy and bought a replacement computer. I stayed up all night, first configuring it and then, account by account, changing passwords on my email accounts, my credit card companies, my bank and other personally sensitive information.

Then we called our accountant and bank to alert them to be on the alert for suspicious activity.

Fortunately, all my computer info was encrypted and backed up with strong security measures. But it's better to take no chances, hence an all-nighter. I am too old to pull an all-nighter.

I also am glad I have a Mac. I used Apple's”Find My Mac” service to first see if I could locate the stolen laptop. It didn't show but I clicked the “Notify me if found” box, which, as soon as it goes online, will send me a map of its location. I also send an erase command which will wipe the hard disk and lock the machine so it can not be used. This is a great service and well worth the cost of buying Apple.

Tips: Lessons Learned from the RV Break-In

Police told us they suspected that thieves are using technology to transmit radio signals that mimic the unlock signals transmitted by key fobs.

If so, that would explain why there was no sign of forced entry. Because as we left the vehicle, as normal, Jennifer asked if I had locked it. I distinctly remember walking to the side passenger window, pushing the lock button on the key fob, and seeing and hearing the inside locks depress.

Almost as frustrating an experience of being robbed is the runaround I'm now getting from my insurance carrier. The claims investigator who called me back yesterday said because there was no forced entry evidence, they probably won't pay.

The company I used specializes in insuring recreational vehicles. But if they deny my claim, they are going to literally have a very unhappy camper on their case.

The rationale suggested by the claims agent is simply unacceptable. These thieves illegally entered our home. The RV is our home. They violated that home and stole from us. Now, the insurance agency is hinting it will do the same thing by not paying.

We'll see what happens as the claim works its way up but I urge all of you to carefully check your policies.

Inventory the items you take with you and make sure you are adequately covered by a reputable agency.

UPDATE: After a long hassle, the insurance company denied my claim. Their reason was that I said I used the RV for recreational purposes. Which, as even a casual reading of this blog shows, is true. But, since I also use the blog to make money, they held that the RV's purpose is for business and, thus, not covered by a recreational policy.

Now, I insure all by RVs for business use.

Even with all of this – where to next?

RV Burglary! We've Been Ripped Off! 1

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Mike Wendland

Published on 2015-05-20

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

19 Responses to “RV Burglary! We’ve Been Ripped Off!”

December 28, 2015at9:21 am, Daniel Johnston said:

We use Simplisafe for our RV. Doors have easy to install sensor/switch, glass break sensor, heat sensor, to monitor if the A/C is working when our dog is inside, and fire/smoke sensor. It doesn’t need power for about 2 days (internal battery) and has it’s own cell connection (when it is available). The only thing it lack is a gps location sensor to feed back to Simplisafe/police alert. You have to add it to your list then send that to their monitoring center. No big deal and easy to do. Oh, we also installed the louder exterior siren (hidden and hard to get for trying to disarm. Monitoring cost is about $25 a month. It’s in our 2010 Pulse. Oh, even if they smash the unit, it has already sent an alert.

June 10, 2015at7:21 pm, Topaz Jewel said:

You have the audio from the dash cam, you could probably use that to help you with the insurance company.

June 01, 2015at3:49 pm, Badger_John said:

Sorry to hear about the break-in.

I am about to retire and we plan on purchasing a Class B to do some adventure especially between our home in Wisconsin and our daughter’s home in California. There is a lot to see between here and there. Also plan on using it as a tail gate vehicle for Badger and Packer games, home and away.

Insurance on the RV is a big deal. Yours certainly was a bad experience. I would like to know more about what and who to look out for when we purchase insurance for the RV and contents.

Besides carrying a small glass break device in the future, how are you attacking the break in issues with the insurance company. Even if you left the door or window open it doesn’t give the right for anyone to enter. Although being interested in technology it would be interesting to see how the electronic door unlocking tool works and what one can do to protect themselves and defeat it. Have you asked Mercedes about it?

PS as a volunteer firefighter I, my wife and kids all carry a small device on our keychain about the size of your key fob that will cut a seat belt and the other side of it has a small point that will shatter a car window will very little effort. Google Resqme they are about $10.

Hope you have a great time in our hometown in Madison this summer. If you are looking for a great dinner (steak house) close to where you will be speaking – go to the Wonder Bar just across the street to the north of the complex. It is a 1920’s brick building with curved lookout stations on each corner built by the Chicago Mob as a temporary hide out and stop off on the road from Chicago to Northern Wisconsin or St Paul Minn. Back then it was a days drive from Chicago.

Thanks for your pod cast

June 01, 2015at10:59 am, aleger said:

I post an opinion few minutes ago but it seems that it was discard from the blog (censored ?). I was telling that the burglars would certainly be invited to target similar kind of motorhomes since they found such an electronic treasure in one.

June 01, 2015at10:46 am, Patricia Linscott said:

What a bummer to come back to your home on wheels to find that you have been violated! When we were traveling on Route 66, we stayed in Granite, Illinois at the KOA and they suggested that we completely bypass St. Louis due to the high chance of theft if we stopped anywhere. We did follow this advice. Again, so sorry. In addition, if your insurance company doesn’t come through, be sure to let everyone know who not to use! 🙁

May 27, 2015at10:24 am, exbioman said:

SORRY TO HEAR YOU HAD A LOSS. Glad Tai was okay. On the dashcam subject I’m retired and on a low income and soon ready to hit the road. More mechs needed here. But thought I’d save some money buying a dashcam straight from China. With sd card for $60. A well reviewed item. It arrived and I was able to use 90% of the features. 1 or 2 glitches. But I removed the sd card to check the video on my laptop. By the way I have 2 older laptops, Dual processors, enough to get my work done. When reinstalling the card, i tried both ways. Forward and backward. In dim light, not forcing unusually hard. Some small spring and piece of plastic popped from the slot. End of $60 investment. No warranty. Model was G1W battery model. So hopefully this post will help someone. Thanks for your travel news, I read the articles every week.

May 25, 2015at8:22 am, Braineo15 said:

It seems the burglars amplified the signal from your key fob and send your vehicle the open command. To avoid this, wrap your key fob with aluminum foil. Any WiFi signal amplifier is being used to open cars without visible means of entry. Be aware. Solution is amazingly simple.

May 23, 2015at9:19 pm, Ron Cabral said:

Mike you have a Belkin Netcam HD in your RV you use to watch your dog Tai, did
you have it on or off when the subjects gained entrance into the RoadTrek?

Ron

May 23, 2015at3:23 pm, tOM Trottier said:

If you have a system where the door unlocks when you approach, you are at risk from this attack.
One solution is to remove the battery from your keyfob until the manufacturers fix it. You lose the convenience of remote locking/unlocking, but also lose the inconvenience of theft.

For a full discussion, see/hear episode 508 of Security Now at
https://www.grc.com/securitynow.htm

“For example, somebody parks a very nice luxury car in a restaurant parking lot. And they go into the reaurant. The bad guys are seeing this. They know the make and model of the car, and that it’s got the fancy PKES [Passive Keyless Entry and Start system] keying system.
So one of them has a briefcase which has the receiver and rebroadcaster in it. That person simply follows the owner of the fancy car into the restaurant and arranges to stand near them. That briefcase receives the car’s ping over the extended high-frequency link, which then pings the key, even though it is a long distance away. The key doesn’t know that it’s not right next to the car. So it uses its UHF transmitter to go that, as we know, about up to 150 feet to say, oh, unlock the door. The moment that happens, the bad guy gets in the car.
Now his transmitter is sending the inside-the-car signal, which the key receives and responds with its challenge response.
Notice that the crypto doesn’t have to be broken. They’ve simply extended the range because range was the only assumption that all of the security of this system was based upon. They extended the range. The key, operating at a much greater distance, responds to the inside-the-car signal. The bad guy presses the start button and drives away.
All 10 cars, once started, never stop, for obvious security reasons. You don’t want to, like, suddenly have the engine turn off.

LEO: Yeah, because you can have “key not present,” and then you’re going to be in trouble, right.
STEVE: Exactly. Now, the alternative approach, which is what some in-the-field devices are doing, is simply receiving the low-frequency signal and using a much larger and higher power rebroadcast in order to reach the key low frequency at a distance, rather than using the somewhat more elegant but necessarily point-to-point system. “

May 23, 2015at11:10 am, jcgc said:

I worked in property casualty claims and retired from that business. It sounds as though you have an inexperienced claims rep at best or someone behaving unethically at worst.

On every policy I have seen theft is a named peril and while it is subject to some exclusions the lack of forced entry isn’t one of them. In fact, you might have accidentally left the vehicle unlocked and this happen and it would still be covered.

A lack of forced entry is only a “red flag”. Meaning something that requires you to take a closer look at the claim. Insurance fraud is real and costs millions of dollars but nothing in your description should cause this claim to be denied.

If they do deny the claim file a complaint with your state department of insurance.

As an example, we full time and over a year ago over $4,000 dollars worth of bicycles was stolen off our bike rack while we parked overnight in a Wal Mart parking lot. We had gotten too complacent and only had the two bikes locked together but not secured to anything else. Stupid on my part but two days later the insurer issued payment in full.

One final comment. Take a look at your policy, read the coverage theft carefully which will help prepare you for possible issues, if any.

May 23, 2015at8:14 am, Roger Bohnke said:

Mike, I know you’re still working through this with the insurance company. Hopefully they will do the right thing. Unfortunately, in my experience, their “outstanding customer service” usually extends only as far as helping you make your monthly payments. Beyond that, it’s an adversarial relationship. Whether they make good or not, I hope you’ll name the company once this is settled. I’m sure there are many of us who will be deciding on RV insurance in the near future and would appreciate this information.

May 21, 2015at12:29 pm, Marty Squicciarini said:

Sorry to hear about your break-in but you might want to listen to this podcast http://twit.tv/show/security-now/508. It discusses Exploiting Keyless Entry.

May 21, 2015at11:36 am, Patrick Stephen Flasch said:

Sorry to hear about your loss! Years ago, I worked for a company which installed high end alarms in vehicles. You would be surprised to how easy it is to break into a “manufacturer supplied alarm system”! The ones that we sold had a key fob which could tell you about if the alarms was truly active… if a door was opened, remote start and if the engine was running (great when your vehicle needs to warm up!) the inside temp of the vehicle… etc. AND at a distance of over a 1/2 mile away! Something to think about! No one likes that feeling of being violated… and I hope that they catch the individuals responsible!

May 21, 2015at6:11 am, ernie said:

they were just looking for their free cell phone,

May 20, 2015at3:49 pm, Roy Justis said:

Sorry to hear your burglar report. I too am interested in the insurance follow up. You had done everything to protect your stuff and we are sure glad the idiots left your dog alone. It’s not good when reporters have to become part of the story. Hope to see you again…down the road. Roy Justis- Iowa City

May 20, 2015at12:30 pm, John-Paul Jespersen said:

You know you can remotely wipe your macbooks. Just sign into iCloud. I had mine stolen, tracked it to a shady appartment complex in vegas, then just gave up and remotely wiped the data.

May 20, 2015at12:12 pm, John Hufnagel said:

Mike & Jennifer…I can sympathize as we had a similar experience. The feeling of being violated wanes, but NEVER disappears completely. I am glad Tai was not hurt. I would appreciate the name of your insurance company so I can get a policy someplace else. No joke…that company is as big a thief as the 2 low-lifes who entered your home on wheels. I hope Karma sets in to all of them…really quick.

May 20, 2015at10:38 am, Katherine A Morrison said:

Ugh. Sorry to hear this.

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