Man accused of breaking into hotel rooms using electronic device, stealing guests' possessions
HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Authorities have arrested a man accused of breaking into hotel rooms in Houston, and the scary part is he's accused of doing it without a room key.
It happened at least three times in September, twice from hotels in the Galleria area -- on September 7 at the Hyatt House Hotel on Sage then again about two weeks later, just down the street at the Homewood Suites on Sage.
Each time police believe the suspect, Matthew Allen Cook, used a device to fool the key readers inside the hotels, enter certain rooms and steal laptops and jewelry.
Computer experts tell us this new type of hacking technology was showcased at a conference earlier this year and are surprised somebody put it into use so quickly.
"That's really shocking to me, makes me feel less safe staying here to know that someone could be going around and just letting themselves into people's hotel room," said business traveler Amitai Bin-Nun.
He may be surprised, but not cyber security expert Michael Gregg.
"Here's where it gets scary: there's not a lot that we can do," said Gregg with Superior Solutions
He says equipment to digitally fool or spoof hotel key readers can be easily obtained on the Internet.
"They're using a small, programmable data board that you can order off the Internet for maybe $25-$30, a couple of resistors, a battery, and when they put all this together, they've got a small device maybe the size of a pack of cigaretters," Gregg said.
Court records show investigators believe Cook stole from three separate hotels during the month of September, all using the electronic device to enter the rooms.
According to court documents, a guest of the Hyatt House Hotel at 3440 Sage had a laptop stolen from a hotel room. Police found a match of the laptop at a pawn shop on Westheimer and discovered that the person selling the laptop to the pawn shop was identified by a drivers license as Cook.
Police say about one week after the first theft, a guest at the Hyatt House Hotel at 15405 Katy Freeway had an Apple laptop stolen from the room; but the guest had a tracking program and was able to take photos of the suspect while using the laptop. According to police, that suspect photo was similar to Cook's driver's license photo.
Employees at the Hyatt House Hotel on the Katy Freeway say they confronted Cook when they saw him suspiciously leaving a room holding an electronic device. Cook allegedly handed one of the employees a business card and fled the scene, but an employee was able to get the make, model and license plate of his vehicle. Police say they matched a registration to Cook.
Then on September 24, a guest at the Homewood Suites at 2950 Sage had a pair of silver earrings from a room. Police say they tracked the sale of those earrings to Cook at the same pawn shop.
Cook's lawyer told us over the phone his client is pleading not guilty. But travelers we talked to are worried there is no easy way to prevent similar crimes.
"It's hard to stop that isn't it. You can't really stop it, you can't really lock it from the outside when you leave," business traveler Kim Goforth.
According to security experts, the hacking affects one particular brand of hotel room locks.
Cook, 27, is charged with aggregate theft. He is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday.
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