By Calvin Palmer
A former employee of a Texas auto dealership was arrested yesterday after the owners of more than 100 vehicles in Austin reported their ignition systems had been disabled and the car horn set off.
Omar Ramos-Lopez, 20, who had been fired by the dealership, was charged yesterday with felony breach of computer security after he had used a former colleague’s password to deactivate the ignition and set off car horns.
“He caused these customers, now victims, to miss work,” Austin police spokeswoman Veneza Aguinaga said. “They didn’t get paid. They had to get tow trucks. They didn’t know what was going on with their vehicles.”
Ramos-Lopez was in the Travis County Jail on Wednesday with bond set at $3,000.
The Texas Auto Center dealership in Austin installs GPS devices that can prevent cars from starting. The system is used to repossess cars when buyers are overdue on payments, said Jeremy Norton, a controller at the dealership where Ramos-Lopez worked. Car horns can be activated when repo agents go to collect vehicles and believe the owners are hiding them.
“We are taking extra measures to make sure this never happens again,” Norton said.
In mid-February, dealership employees noticed unusual changes to their business records. Someone was accessing the system and changing customers’ names, such as having dead rapper Tupac Shakur buying a 2009 vehicle, Norton said.
Customers soon began calling saying their cars would not start or that their horns were going off incessantly, forcing them to disengage the battery.
The vehicle disabling technology, powered by Cleveland-based Pay Technologies (Pay Teck) is only supposed to be used when someone fails to meet their auto loan or lease obligations.
Police said they were able to trace the sabotage to Ramos-Lopez’s computer, by matching Ramos-Lopez’s Internet Protocol address to PayTeck’s login records.
Norton said Ramos-Lopez did not seem unusually upset about being fired.
“I think he thought what he was doing was a harmless prank,” Norton said. “He didn’t see the ramifications of it.”
Texas Auto Center says it has now reduced the number of employees who have access to its remote disabling system. The dealership also plans to reset system passwords every time an employee quits or gets fired.