Vehicle Theft – Here’s what you can do about it

Savvy crooks may know how to steal a keyless SUV in seconds – but owners have some tricks up their sleeve too – Extract from Ed Wiseman’s column in The Daily Telegraph

It was at three o’clock in the morning, while he was checking on his baby, that Matthew realised his Range Rover Sport had been stolen.

“We saw an email and some missed calls from Land Rover’s tracking company,” said Matthew. “This had happened in error before, including when we were actually driving it, so we didn’t have much faith, but a glance out of the window showed that it had gone. It had been taken in the middle of the night, at about half past midnight, with no noise or fuss.”

Matthew’s story is a relatively common one. Most of the 100,000 cars stolen annually in the UK are now thought to be taken by means of so-called keyless car theft. Criminals using hacking devices can remotely exploit vulnerabilities in modern cars – many of which have convenient “keyless” entry and ignition systems – and trick the car into thinking that its rightful owner is trying to use it. 

Types of attack

There are several variations on this theme, ranging from opportunist signal blocking attacks – whereby a thief jams the signal from your key fob telling the car to lock, keeping it open and allowing its glove box to be plundered – to sophisticated key spoofing using expensive specialist tools. 

But an increasingly common and successful ploy is what is called a relay attack.

Working in pairs, criminals will wander onto a driveway at night. One will get as close to the house as possible, holding a box with an aerial. This device is listening for the faint, distant signal emitted by a car key indoors, in the pocket of a jacket or in a bowl in the hallway. It then repeats this signal at full blast to the second thief, who is holding a related device next to the car, which now believes it is simply being unlocked. Within minutes, sometimes seconds, the thieves have some new wheels.

That is exactly what happened to Ollie, whose Land Rover Discovery was stolen from Greenwich in December. 

“First thing in the morning, my 8-year-old daughter woke me up to tell me my car was gone,” said Ollie. “She had noticed our Land Rover wasn’t parked outside her bedroom window like normal and came to check that I was home.”

According to Jack Cousens, head of road policy at the AA, there are solutions to this problem – and they are surprisingly retro. “I haven’t heard of a case where a thief has gone through a lot of effort to steal a car,” he says. “If a would-be miscreant looks at the scenario and thinks it might be more trouble than it’s worth, they won’t bother.”

Physical obstacles turn the clean, digital crime of key cloning and relay attacks into something altogether more time-consuming, risky and dirty, says Cousens. Even two minutes bolt-cutting a wheel clamp adds effort to what might otherwise be a 30-second job. “A big, yellow steering wheel lock is a great option. If you’ve got bollards you can put behind your car, or gates across your driveway, that’s a positive thing too. [Thieves] aren’t going to bother with that.”

But with so many cars going missing from driveways, often by means of a signal boosting attack, is there anything that motorists can do to prevent the signal from their keys being used to open and start cars in the middle of the night? 

Protecting your keys

One of the best things you can get is a Faraday pouch, says Cousens. These pouches, which usually have metal woven into the fabric, are available for under a tenner and are a cheap, effective way to insulate your car keys from the outside world. “But you need to buy two, one for the key you use every day, and one for the spare that you’ve forgotten about. Both need to be protected to prevent these attacks.”

The technology and expertise required to carry out this kind of theft is now within the grasp of a middleweight small-town crook. While such exploits were once an almost theoretical vulnerability, achievable only using expensive radio equipment in the hands of specialists, today you can buy the requisite devices online for hundreds of pounds and begin a crime spree with a trusted friend and a bit of trial and error.

Even petty criminals, lacking the wider network or business sense required to sell a car on the black market, are using these methods to carry out “smash and grab” thefts of vehicle contents – without getting broken glass on their trainers. 
Laura, from Clapham in south-west London, found this out the hard way. “We had a [Range Rover] Velar,” she says.

“It was the first time we’d ever had a new car and it was stolen within a year of us having it. They took it at 6pm, during rush hour.

“Our keys weren’t in a Faraday pouch or anything – this was before I knew about that craziness. So we went to the dealer and they offered us a big discount on another Velar.”

Missing property

To prevent the new car from going missing, Laura invested in an immobiliser and a steering wheel lock, as well as a Faraday pouch; the insurance money had taken three months to come through, she says, and the administrative faff of arranging interim transport – not to mention a bus lane fine that the criminals had incurred on her behalf during their getaway – had taken a bigger emotional toll than the theft itself. But it still wasn’t enough. 

“My partner told me he couldn’t find his golf clubs after leaving them in the boot,” she says. “I explained to him that he was a moron and that he’d obviously left them somewhere. But then I noticed that some Christmas gifts I’d left in the car had gone missing as well.”

As Laura discovered, the same technology used to start cars can be used to merely open them as well – and December proved a rich opportunity for thieves to learn about other families’ present-buying habits. Valuables left in a properly fortified SUV – parked behind gates, with a steering wheel lock and an expensive tracker – are currently just as vulnerable to passing criminals as car radios were in the 1980s.

Despite this recent spate of thefts, car security has come a long way since you could open a Ford with a clothes hanger and start it with a length of wire. And in 40 years’ time, we might look back with similar nostalgia for this particular era of car crime – who knows how thieves might target driverless pods or flying taxis in the future?

But for now, with manufacturers only slowly addressing the problem and penniless police forces unlikely to chase down every missing Merc, the responsibility falls to car owners to protect themselves against vehicle theft – a crime that has been around as long as the motor car itself.

Simple steps to stop your vehicle being stolen

Steering wheel lock

A committed thief will angle-grind through the lock, or more likely the steering wheel itself, to steal the car, which means it’s more likely to have expensive damage if it gets recovered. But the sight of a steering wheel lock presents enough of a faff to send the less motivated crook on his way (to steal next door’s Land Rover instead).

Faraday pouch

The Faraday pouch is a first line of defence against relay attacks, cocooning your keys and stopping criminals from boosting its signal. Any metal container will do – a biscuit tin, a filing cabinet, even a microwave – though purpose-made products are inexpensive and effective.

Retractable bollard

Protecting your driveway is almost as good as protecting your car. Retractable bollards, which you can lift and lock once you’ve parked, ensure that even a successfully hotwired car can’t be driven away without a fight. As with any other physical security, a committed gang working to order will make short work of most bollards, but many will lose interest and try somewhere else.

Park in your garage

Garage owners should utilise them, advises the AA. This isn’t always possible – garages tend to be too small to accommodate the modern SUVs currently being targeted by thieves, or too full of bicycles, kayaks and seasonal clobber to be used for their original purpose. But if you have one, it makes it difficult for criminals to even know you have a nice car, let alone be able to nick it.

Disable keyless entry

It’s sometimes possible to disable the “keyless” element of a modern car’s key. How to do this will depend on the manufacturer and the model; your dealer (or more likely a long-winded YouTube video produced by a bored but civic-minded motorist) might be able to help.

Attempted Burglary – Kenilworth

Please be aware that between 2345hrs on Sunday 8 January and 0030hrs on Monday 9 January 2023 offenders have attempted to break into a property at Clinton Lane, Kenilworth.

The offenders tried to force the front door of the property but were unsuccessful. It is believed the offenders may have been trying to gain entry to the property, which was occupied at the time, to obtain the keys to a motor vehicle outside with the intention of stealing it.

This is incident 138 of 9 January 2023

Residents are reminded to check the suitability of door security at their property, particularly the fitting any snap locks. Fitting anti snap locks are a major deterrent and problem for criminals trying to break into a property

If you require further advice or wish to get your home fitted with anti snap locks then who are based locally are happy to advise and help you. Their telephone number is 02476 332524

If you think you may have seen or heard anything suspicious, have any CCTV footage or information about this incident then please contact Warwickshire Police on 101 or alternatively you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111

Burglary – Kenilworth

Please be aware that between the afternoon of Christmas Eve and the afternoon of 27 December, offenders have entered a property on Windy Arbour, Kenilworth.

Once inside a search was carried out with a quantity of cash and jewellery being removed.

Enquiries are ongoing and we’re keen to hear from anyone who might have seen people acting suspiciously in the area to get in touch.

This is incident 151 of 27 December 2022

Anyone with information is asked to contact Warwickshire Police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111

Man charged with Dangerous Driving & Failing to Stop – Kenilworth

Following an incident last evening (4 January 2023) that ended in Stoneleigh Road, Kenilworth last night a 22-year-old-man from Oxfordshire has been charged with Dangerous Driving and Failing to Stop. He will appear at court in March.

Warwickshire Police have expressed their thanks to local people for their patience and support while police officers managed the incident and worked with Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service and Cadent Gas to make sure the area was safe. Warwickshire Police wish to especially thank staff at the Engine Inn for their support in the evacuation that took place while the gas main was secured and made safe.

Fortunately, nobody was injured.

Dangerous Driving & Failure to Stop Arrest – Kenilworth

The Operational Policing Unit of Warwickshire Police have informed us that last night (Wednesday 4 January 2023) saw residents on Stoneleigh Rd, Kenilworth needing to be evacuated after a blue Saab motor vehicle crashed.

The vehicle, that had failed to stop for police on the A46, and reached speeds of almost 150mph, tried its luck on the smaller roads and came into Kenilworth on Dalehouse Lane. As it approached the Cottage pub it crashed into a blue BMW and subsequently into a Peugeot where it ruptured a gas main. Thankfully no one was seriously injured. The driver was arrested and charged with Dangerous driving and Fail to stop for police.

Warwickshire Police would like to thank all the residents affected and also the Engine Public House that became the evacuation centre whilst Warwickshire and Rescue service and Cadent Gas made the area safe.

This was incident 255 of 4 January 2023