Warning over car thieves’ new hi-tech tactics

After decreasing crime stats, why have vehicle thefts soared by almost 25%?

In November 2022, ONS data revealed that total crime had decreased by 8%, compared to the year before.  Although it was considered to be too premature to get the full impact of Covid and the cost-of-living crisis, it initially looked positive for Britain’s crime rate, especially theft, which had decreased by 19%.

Now, just nine months later, vehicle thefts have soared by24.9% compared to to the previous year. Thefts of valuables and personal effects from vehicles have also increased by 10% according to the new figures from ONS. We’ve seen reports of a jump in motor thefts as a result  of criminal gangs using a variety of hi-tech methods to steal vehicles.

So, what’s behind the rising statistics? Here we’ll talk you through the three new hi-tech methods you need to be wary of,  and what you can do to help protect yourself and your vehicle.

Relay attack

In recent years, a growing menace known as ’relay theft‘ has become a significant contributor to the alarming increase in car thefts. This technique involves exploiting the keyless entry system installed in many modern vehicles.

Criminals use devices that can intercept and amplify the signal emitted by a car’s key fob, tricking the vehicle into believing the key is nearby. With this amplified signal, thieves can unlock and start the car, all while the original key fob is safely inside the owner’s home!

You can take steps to protect your vehicle from this by keeping your car keys in a metal box to block its signal, thereby preventing criminals from amplifying the signal. and parking in well-lit areas. If you can do so, consider installing security cameras to deter thieves – and even if they do get their way, the footage can be used as valuable evidence for the police.

Key cloning

Key cloning is another emerging technique that enables car thieves to create duplicate key fobs using stolen vehicle data. With access to a car’s electronic systems, criminals can replicate the key’s unique digital signature, giving them the ability to unlock and start the vehicle without arousing suspicion. This method allows thieves to bypass even the most advanced keyless entry systems.

To protect against key cloning, car owners should be vigilant about their personal information and ensure that their vehicles’ electronic systems are adequately protected. Regularly updating vehicle software and using strong, unique passwords for connected apps can help minimise the risk of unauthorised access. Additionally, investing in vehicles equipped with advanced security features like encrypted key communication can make it significantly more difficult for criminals to clone keys.

Signal blocking

Car key signal blocking, or ‘jamming’ is where thieves used electronic devices called ‘key jammers’ to stop you from locking your car. The BBC reports that the transmitters, which can even be bought online, can be used to interrupt signals from keys fobs, meaning unwary motorists believe their cars to be secure when they’re anything but!

Jamming uses radio frequency to disrupt the communication between a car’s key fob and the vehicle itself preventing the car from locking and leaving the vehicle vulnerable to attack.

To protect yourself from ‘jamming’ or signal blocking, it is important to be vigilant when locking your car. Always manually check that your car is locked before you leave it and while wheel locks have fallen by the wayside for many in these hi-tech years, investing in a steering wheel lock is a fantastic physical deterrent. Even just seeing the wheel lock can  discourage thieves from attempting to steal your vehicle in the first place.

Additional tips for protecting your vehicle

  1. Stay informed: Keep abreast of the latest car theft methods and trends in your area. Awareness is always the first step towards effective crime prevention.
  2. Secure key fobs: Store car keys in metal-lined boxes/pouches to block attacks.
  3. Opt for strong authentication: Choose strong, unique passwords for connected apps and regularly update your vehicle’s software in order to minimise the risk of key cloning.
  4. Invest in advanced security features: Consider vehicles equipped with advanced security features, such as encrypted key communication and biometric authentication.
  5. Use physical deterrents: Invest in a steering wheel lock, wheel clamps and visible security cameras to discourage thieves.
  6. Park in well-lit areas: If you have the choice, always choose to park in a well-lit, secure parking area, preferably with surveillance cameras to decrease the likelihood of theft.
  7. Be vigilant: Always check that your car is locked before you walk away from it. Don’t rely on just pointing and clicking in the vague direction of your car.

Finally, as technology continues to evolve, so do the tactics employed by car thieves. The rise of relay theft, key cloning and signal blocking serves is an important reminder that vehicle security is an ongoing challenge that requires close attention and proactive measures from both the manufacturers and the car owner. Staying informed, adopting best practices (like checking your car is locked, using a steering wheel lock, etc.) and investing in the latest security features, is the best way to combat the rising tide of car thefts. Remember, safeguarding your vehicle is not just about protecting an asset; it’s also about securing your peace of mind!

To speak to us about your vehicle security, and insuring your vehicles, simply pop into your local branch or give us a call. Our friendly, expert team can provide all the advice you need to help find a policy that suits you.

Sources: Huffington Post, West Yorkshire Police, BBC News, Carlock.co, ThisisMoney