Thefts triple in worst-hit ar­eas as thieves ex­ploit tech­nol­ogy now used in fam­ily cars

Daily Mail - - News - By James Salmon Trans­port Edi­tor

‘Break­ing in is child’s play’ ‘Takes 30 to 40 sec­onds’

A RISE in key­less ve­hi­cles is fuel-ling a car crime ‘epi­demic’ across Bri­tain, po­lice of­fi­cials fear.

Of­fences have nearly tripled in the worst-­hit ar­eas as thieves ex­ploit the tech­nol­ogy to steal ve­hi­cles from car parks and drive­ways.

One of­fi­cial said hack­ing cars was now ‘child’s play’, with crim­i­nals able to get in and drive off in just 30 sec­onds.

Af­ter more than a decade of de­cline, car thefts have surged in the past three years – up by 189 per cent in War­wick-shire, 59 per cent in Hamp­shire, 57 per cent in West York­shire and 56 per cent in Nor­folk.

It comes as key­less tech­nol­ogy, once the pre­serve of ex­pen­sive high-­end vehi-cles, has be­come com­mon­place among more af­ford­able fam­ily cars.

Ear­lier this week, Cleve­land Po­lice said it had re­ceived 90 re­ports of key­less cars be­ing stolen since De­cem­ber, and half of them were Ford Fi­es­tas – the coun­try’s best-­sell­ing ve­hi­cle of the past decade.

Key­less tech­nol­ogy is de­signed to in­crease con­ve­nience for mo­torists as it typ­i­cally means they need just a small fob to un­lock their cars, and can drive by press­ing an ig­ni­tion but­ton.

But crim­i­nals are ex­ploit­ing this with de­vices such as re­lay boxes, avail­able to buy cheaply on Ama­zon and eBay for as lit­tle as £260.

These gad­gets let crim­i­nals pick up the sig­nal from a car’s key­less fob ly­ing in­side the owner’s home, and ex­tend this sig­nal to un­lock the car and start it. The vehi-cle’s se­cu­rity sys­tem is tricked into think­ing the key fob is present. Of­fend-ers have been caught on cam­era strolling up drive­ways, be­fore hold­ing the de­vices against the car owner’s front door.

Crim­i­nals are also tar­get­ing car parks with a gad­get that blocks the sig­nal when a driver tries to use a fob to lock their ve­hi­cle. When the vic­tim thinks they are se­cur­ing their car by press­ing the fob, the jam­ming de­vice in­ter­cepts the sig­nal, en­sur­ing the ve­hi­cle re­mains un­locked.

The owner would spot this only if they phys­i­cally checked by try­ing to open the car door. But if they walk away with­out notic­ing, the thieves can jump in and steal what­ever’s in­side. In some car mod­els, the crim­i­nals can also start the ve­hi­cle us­ing another de­vice.

Man­u­fac­tur­ers in­sist cars are more se­cure than ever, but po­lice are urg­ing driv­ers to buy old-­fash­ioned steer­ing wheel locks, and even to store fobs in bis­cuit tins or spe­cial cases to pro­tect them.

David Jamieson, po­lice and crime com­mis­sioner for the West Mid­lands, said the num­ber of car thefts in his force had dou­bled in just two years.

Mr Jamieson, a for­mer trans­port min­is­ter, blamed the in­crease in key­less se­cu­rity sys­tems. ‘ Car thefts have dou­bled in two years – that’s an epi­demic,’ he said.

‘The West Mid­lands has prob­a­bly ex­pe­ri­enced the big­gest rise in the coun­try out­side [Lon­don], but this prob­lem is get­ting worse ev­ery-where with big ur­ban ar­eas.

‘This is mak­ing our lives re­ally dif­fi­cult. It’s suck­ing up loads of po­lice time that should be deal­ing with other more se­ri­ous crime.’

Mr Jamieson re­jected mo­tor in­dus­try claims that cars have never been more se­cure. ‘At the mo­ment it’s kid’s play … it takes 30 to 40 sec­onds to get in and off you go,’ he added.

He said crim­i­nals were in­creas-in­gly tar­get­ing mod­est ve­hi­cles such as Ford Fi­es­tas, Fo­cuses and Tran­sit vans, which can be sold off or bro­ken up in il­le­gal ‘chop’ house garages for parts.

Key­less sys­tems have been avail-able on Ford cars since 2008 and now come with al­most all mod­els.

Ford in­sists the fig­ures do not sug­gest its cars are be­ing tar-geted. But an anal­y­sis from West Mid­lands Po­lice re­veals that although Fords rep­re­sent 13.7 per cent of cars reg­is­tered in the re­gion, they ac­count for around a quar­ter of the cars stolen.

Car thefts had de­clined for a decade as man­u­fac­tur­ers in­tro-duced im­mo­bilis­ers, alarm sys-­ tems and track­ing de­vices to stop crim­i­nals from hotwiring cars.

But the of­fence has soared by al­most a third in just three years in Eng­land and Wales. The lat­est fig­ures, re­leased by 40 po­lice forces af­ter Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quests by the RAC, showed 85,688 ve­hi­cles stolen in 2016, up 30 per cent from 65,783 in 2013. More ve­hi­cles are stolen in Lon-­ don than any­where else in the UK with 26,496 re­ported to the Metro-poli­tan Po­lice in 2016 – a 29 per cent in­crease on 2013.

West York­shire Po­lice re­ported 5,597 thefts – 57 per cent more than in 2013. Greater Manch­ester Po­lice re­vealed 4,999 ve­hi­cles were stolen in 2016, a 29 per rise from 2013. Es­sex saw the same per­cent-age rise in car theft, up to 3,623. Of the 40 po­lice forces, only five re­ported a fall in car theft.

Gra­ham McNulty, Na­tional Po­lice Chiefs Coun­cil lead for vehi-cle crime, has cited key­less car theft as one of the rea­sons for the rise in the num­ber of cars stolen.

Other fac­tors in­clude an in­crease in or­gan­ised crim­i­nal gangs ex­port­ing cars and an in­crease in mo­tor­cy­cle and scooter theft.

Mr Jamieson said man­u­fac­tur­ers should take much of the blame. He said: ‘The at­ti­tude among car man­u­fac­tur­ers is this is a po­lice prob­lem … But we are work­ing with strict bud­gets … Man­u­fac­tur-ers have got to put some of their prof­its into look­ing af­ter car own-ers af­ter they have bought them.’

He said firms that fail to com­mit to more ac­tion to pro­tect car own-­ ers will be ‘ named and shamed’, with their stolen car num­bers re­leased by West Mid­lands Po­lice.

Hal­fords said sales of steer­ing wheel locks had soared by more than half since last sum­mer. It has also be­gun sell­ing anti-­theft fob wal­lets for driv­ers of key­less cars.

Mike Hawes, of the So­ci­ety of Mo­tor Man­u­fac­tur­ers and Trad-ers, said: ‘New cars are more se­cure than ever and the lat­est tech­nol-ogy has helped bring down theft dra­mat­i­cally – which is why less than 0.3 per cent of the ve­hi­cles on our roads are stolen to­day.’

But he also called for ‘stronger safe­guards to pre­vent the sale of cloning tech­nolo­gies, sig­nal block-ing and other de­vices’.

A Ford spokesman said: ‘ Ford Mo­tor Com­pany takes ve­hi­cle se­cu­rity se­ri­ously and con­tin­u­ously in­vests in tech­nol­ogy to de­ter theft of, and from, our ve­hi­cles. Fords are sold with com­pet­i­tive lev­els of stan­dard se­cu­rity equip­ment.

‘The Ford Fi­esta is Bri­tain’s best-­ sell­ing car and ev­ery new Fi­esta comes with an im­mo­biliser, pre­vent­ing “hot wiring” as the en­gine will only run when the cor-rect key is present.’

War­wick­shire Po­lice recorded an 189 per cent rise in car theft over the three-­year pe­riod – the big­gest per­cent­age in­crease – although just 275 cars were stolen, the third low­est tally in the coun­try.

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