Organised gangs of criminals are hacking into the computer systems of modern cars to steal them. But you can take steps to ensure you don’t fall victim.
High-tech criminals are leading to a resurgence in the number of cars stolen in the UK.
An increasing reliance on keyless engine-starting systems in modern vehicles is being exploited by thieves who are able to clone drivers’ fobs.
Police forces around the country are warning motorists to implement extra security measures to prevent the thefts.
Most cars that start with a fob rather than an ignition key allow mechanics to connect to the on-board computer and make a copy.
This is in case the driver loses or damages their original fob.
But hackers are managing to do the same thing using a couple of pieces of inexpensive electronic equipment.
17 thefts a day
Police in London revealed that on average 17 cars a day are stolen in this way in the capital, representing almost half of all vehicle thefts.
Detective Chief Superintendent Carl Bussey runs the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Endeavour, which has been set up to combat keyless car theft.
He said that officers have been encouraging drivers to take extra steps to protect their vehicles.
"Keyless vehicle theft is organised and there are crime groups making a lot of money from selling on the cars and vans they steal," Bussey added.
'Damaging our communities'
"This money is going back into committing serious crime in our communities.
"We are determined to reduce the number of criminals damaging our communities in this way."
Figures from the AA show that the trend in car theft has shown a long-term decline since peaking at around 700,000 a year in the early 1990s.
By 2013, this figure had fallen to around 75,000. But the rate is thought to be rising again, with many thefts being carried out to order by organised gangs and shipped abroad.
How to foil the thieves
The new wave of keyless thefts appears to be targeting vans such as Ford Transits and Mercedes Sprinters as well as high-value, prestige vehicles such as BMWs, Land Rovers and Range Rovers.
The Met has published a series of security tips for drivers concerned they could become victims of keyless thefts. These include:
- Park in an open, well-lit and secure area if possible. Use a garage if you have one or make sure your car is in view of CCTV cameras.
- Fit an alarm or immobiliser.
- Use a steering wheel lock and/or gearstick lock.
- Consider having an on-board diagnostics (OBD) lock fitted.
- Consider fitting a tracker so that if your car is stolen police have more chance of finding it.
The police also say it is important to ensure all windows, the sunroof and boot are shut and locked when you leave your vehicle, no matter how long for.
Check your car is locked
Criminals sometimes use radio jammers to block the door-locking signal from fobs: this is why you should use the door handles to physically check that your car is indeed locked.
If thieves can get inside your vehicle, it makes it easier for them to access your on-board computer.
Police are putting pressure on manufacturers to improve their vehicles’ security systems.
They are also looking at how to make it more difficult for criminals to get hold of the equipment they need to carry out this type of theft.