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Keyless technology sparked a sharp rise in theft of luxury cars, new figures reveal 


Keyless technology has led to a sharp rise in thefts of luxury cars, figures show.

More than 14,000 premium models were stolen between January and October this year, according to an analysis of insurance claims by Direct Line.

That is more than double the amount over the same period in 2015 and means a luxury vehicle is stolen once every 38 minutes on Britain’s roads.

Police and insurance firms believe the rise in car thefts is partly because modern keyless cars provide easy pickings (stock image)

Police and insurance firms believe the rise in car thefts is partly because modern keyless cars provide easy pickings (stock image)

Police and insurance firms believe the rise is partly because modern keyless cars provide easy pickings for thieves.

A recent report from vehicle security experts has also highlighted tactics used by criminal gangs who share information in encrypted messages via WhatsApp and other online platforms to create shopping lists of desirable vehicles.

Many of these premium models are identified as being in demand in overseas markets, especially high-end SUVs which tend to be shipped to Africa having been stolen from their rightful owners in the UK.

Gangs not only use the messaging services to list the models they’re hunting for but also share details of where examples of these vehicles are, how to remove any tracking devices that might be fitted to them and even delivery addresses for chop shops where they can be broken down into parts and sold as spares.

These organised tactics also allow them to quickly create a cloned identity for the motor they’ve stolen and replace the number plate with one belonging to a similar car somewhere else in the country, making it difficult for Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) camera to detect their whereabouts after being stolen. 

Home Office figures show the number of vehicles pinched in Britain has almost doubled in the last five years, mainly a result of the rise in keyless – also known as ‘relay’ – thefts.

In 2017-18, nearly 112,000 cars were taken illegally, up from 75,308 in the 2013-14 financial year.

Organised criminals are able to steal vehicles without ever having to touch a set of keys or even break the windows

Organised criminals are able to steal vehicles without ever having to touch a set of keys or even break the windows

Keyless technology, which allows you to open your car door without having your key in your hand, is becoming increasingly common in newer cars.

When you put your hand on your car’s door handle, the vehicle sends out a radio signal and, provided your key fob is within range, the door will open.

However, the technology can be vulnerable to hacking. 

If your key fob is in a house, for example, criminals can use a device to increase the signal so the car thinks the fob is closer than it is and they can still open the door.

In August, an investigation found that some keyless models can be stolen in as little as ten seconds. 

The new analysis by Direct Line Car Insurance found that, between January and October this year, more than 14,300 premium cars were stolen across the UK.

In August, an investigation found that some keyless models can be stolen in as little as ten seconds

In August, an investigation found that some keyless models can be stolen in as little as ten seconds

That’s more  than double the amount over the same period in 2015 (6,600). 

So far in 2019 (January to October), premium cars have accounted for nearly two fifths (37 per cent) of all reported car thefts, up from just 31 per cent recorded for the whole of 2015, the insurer said. 

Direct Line is urging drivers to install steering wheel, pedal and gear locks – which will make luxury vehicles far less attractive to criminals.  

Steve Barrett, head of motor insurance at Direct Line, said: ‘Our analysis shows that certain premium car brands can be at heightened risk of being stolen so it is important for car owners to take additional precautions especially in the darker months to ensure their vehicles are not easy targets for thieves.

‘Many owners believe that parking in their driveway can be an effective deterrent to thieves, though our research shows that parking in driveways does not deter thieves. 

‘We would, therefore, encourage policyholders to protect their cars by investing in anti-theft equipment, such as a steering wheel lock. Such simple yet effective devices make cars less attractive to thieves and much harder to steal.’

Additional analysis of the location of car thefts suggests that two thirds (65 per cent) of all vehicles are stolen from the owner’s address. 

However, this figure rises to 71 per cent for premium vehicles, signifying the importance of vehicle theft prevention measures at home.

The study found that 71% of premium vehicles are stolen from the owner's home

The study found that 71% of premium vehicles are stolen from the owner’s home

When looking at the proportion of premium vehicles stolen, Direct Line’s analysis reveals that in 2019 to date, 17 premium cars have been stolen for every 10,000 premium vehicles licenced, compared to 12 per 10,000 vehicles when looking at all cars in the UK. 

This means that owners of premium cars have a 48 per cent higher risk of having their vehicle stolen than the average car owner.

On a regional level, London is the premium car theft capital, accounting for more than a third (34 per cent) of all premium car thefts over the past five years. 

This works out at around one premium car being reported as stolen every two hours, and accounts for nearly half (49 per cent) of all reported car thefts in the capital. 

London is followed by the West Midlands (15 per cent) and the North West (14 per cent), meaning that these three regions account for nearly two thirds (63 per cent) of all premium car thefts across the UK, despite only accounting for 56 per cent of all car thefts, the stats show.

Overall, October and November see a lift in the number of reported car thefts, accounting for 28 per cent of the annual average number of such incidents. 

November 2018 saw a record high number of premium car thefts with nearly 1,900 vehicles stolen. 

This is the equivalent of one in every nine premium cars (11 per cent) stolen throughout 2018 being taken in November at an average of 63 per day across the UK, or one every 23 minutes.

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