Hundreds of people locked out of cars in the Great Electronic Key Mystery of 2019

Photo: Getty Images.

Hundreds of West Australian shoppers have been left confused and car-less after being locked out of their vehicles due to electronic keys not working.

The bizarre incidents started happening last week as customers returned from shopping at The Reject Shop, Chemist Warehouse and OfficeWorks in the Perth city of Joondalup. The shopping centre, known as Joondalup Lakeside, responded to customer complaints on Facebook, ensuring them the issue was being investigated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority and the police.

“We have recently received feedback from customers regarding issues concerned with vehicle remote access in a small section of the centre’s carpark. WA Police have investigated, and have advised us that they don’t believe suspicious activity is involved,” the centre’s management wrote on Facebook on March 8.

“We have been in contact with the Australian Communications and Media Authority, who suspect the disruption is caused by a device as simple as an internet router. Our Operations Team have set up a scanner to find the source of the frequency disruption. Until we resolve this issue, we have increased security patrols should any customers require assistance.”

Meanwhile, shoppers wrote comments on Facebook noting they had tried to replace their remote batteries but nothing would help with accessing their vehicles. One shopper, Pei Liang, even claimed her key opened a car next to hers.

According to the West Australian, who spoke to a range of people affected, a local mechanic had helped dozens of people unlock their cars. There were also reports of 20 car alarms sounding at the one time. Initially, it was thought a hacking device may have been left in the carpark, but that was debunked by Joondalup police, according to the publication.

Finally on Monday afternoon, Joondalup Centre advised the incident was resolved.

For all those armchair detectives investigating the case, Business Insider Australia has confirmed that an alert system installed at Chemist Warehouse, which lets customers know when their prescriptions are ready for pickup, is to blame for the multi-day chaos. It was causing electromagnetic interference with the car systems due to it operating on the same frequency. After the prescription buzzer machine was reset, there have not been any more reported incidents. Joondalup Centre is monitoring the situation.

Nine News also reported ACMA had isolated the issue to a device within Chemist Warehouse and that the alert system was to blame due to it operating on the same frequency as electronic car keys. Business Insider Australia has reached out to ACMA for comment.

In good news, people can now return from the shops in a timely fashion and with the vehicle they arrived in.

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