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Police warning as keyless car thefts increase

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Written by: Emma Lunn
23/07/2021
The UK’s top police officer investigating vehicle crime is encouraging drivers to take steps to keep their car safe amid a rise in criminals exploiting keyless technology.

Provisional figures from the National Police Chiefs’ Council show a 3.1% increase between May 2021 and June 2021 in vehicle crime. The bulk of this increase is from keyless theft.

Intelligence shows organised crime gangs are using ‘relay technology’ to receive the signal from a key inside a house and transfer it to a portable device, allowing them to unlock and drive the car.

Jenny Sims, assistant chief constable and National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for vehicle crime, said: “Car theft is a serious crime that causes significant distress and upset to owners and police are putting considerable resources into tackling it and bringing those responsible to justice.

“Whilst the rapid development of technology has dramatically improved the experience of drivers it has also allowed criminals to exploit weaknesses in electronic security. We are working closely with car manufacturers to help them design out crime by sharing intelligence and equipment seized from criminals. We are already making substantial progress in this regard.

“I would urge drivers to take simple steps to keep their vehicle safe like storing your keys in metal tins or protective pouches that block the devices criminals are using. A return to basics like making sure your car is locked is worthwhile too. We know from research that some owners think that cars automatically lock – they don’t. Always double check before you walk away that it’s locked.”

Police say they have made significant gains against car thieves and arrests are being made across the UK. Last week Leicestershire Police secured the conviction of seven members of an organised crime gang who were involved in more than 50 keyless thefts involving vehicles totalling £2.4m. They were jailed for a total of more than 30 years.

Earlier this month in Liverpool five people were sentenced to a total of more than 23 years in prison after being convicted for a range of offences including the theft of keyless cars totalling around £2.6m.

Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said: “Technology sold as a convenience for drivers is becoming the best tool for car thieves. Relay theft is now the preferred way to steal a car is it is quick and quiet. The days of ‘smash and grab’ are over and have been replaced with ‘bounce and roll’ as thieves now bounce the signal off the keys in the house onto the car and roll away with the goods.

“As fast as manufacturers try to develop ways to strengthen vehicle security, thieves will work just as hard to beat them.The best way to protect cars with keyless entry is to keep keys away from the front door and to buy a faraday pouch. For less than a tenner, this stops the signal being broadcast and will keep the car where it’s parked. Drivers should remember to buy two pouches – one for main key and one for the spare.”

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