Why are car thefts still on the rise?

“It was done so quickly and discreetly that I think the thief must have been staking out our house,” Chambers told me when I phoned her after seeing her report of the theft and appeal for information on Stolen Cars UK, a public Facebook group. Recently, Suffolk police admitted it had failed to solve 95%of car crime in the past three years, mainly because of what it described as “limited forensic opportunities”. New technologies such as keyless entry and ignition systems were meant to make cars safe from thieves and render mechanical locking devices, such as the traditional Krooklok, redundant. What their designers didn’t take account of, however, was car thieves’ determination to overcome any new obstacle in their path and the changing nature ofcar crime, which has evolved from the casual thieving and joy riding of the 1990s to the organised and targeted activity it is today. “There’s a significant amount of organised criminal activity, with cars being stolen to order,” says Clive Wain, head of police liaison at Tracker, a vehicle telematics and locater company. “Cars are stolen for one of four reasons: for export, often to Eastern Europe; to order, for their identity to be changed and the vehicle sold on within the UK; for parts, which is a growingproblem and where the vehicle is stripped down in a so-called ‘chop shop’; and to be used in further crimes.” Neil Thomas, director of investigative services at AX Innovation, a fleet management company, says car crime is like an industry. Their messages will include details of a vehicle’s location and instructions on how to check for and remove tracking devices.” Increasingly, criminals are turning to county lines techniques borrowed from the drug world to steal cars. So-called ‘clean skins’, young people with no criminal record, are recruited to steal cars from outside the criminal’s immediate area in return for cash or food for their family. Having bought the stolen car, a criminal may attempt to sell it to an unsuspecting member of the public, advertising it at less than its market value to attract interest. On arrival at what is likely to be a rented address, the buyer is told there is finance to settle, a story intended to reassure them that the seller and the car are legitimate. As part of the raids, the police targeted criminals suspected of codingreplacement keys, enabling the vehicles to be cloned and sold to unsuspecting buyers. The police haul included the equipment that the criminals used to overcome the keyless entry systems fitted to the cars they had stolen, a technique called a relay attack. It works by one criminal holding a device up against the door of the car, amplifying the signal it broadcasts around the perimeter of the vehicle. Another criminal stands near the owner’s home with a devicethat picks up the signal the key emits and relays it to his accomplice, who can then open the car’s door and start the engine. The Association of British Insurers, which last year reported a steep rise in motor theft payouts,has urged car makers to tackle what it describes as this “high-tech vulnerability”. “Most car thieves who use keyless entry want a quiet life but, given the scale of the industry they’re supporting, they may, if sleeper keys become more widespread, be forced to take desperate measures. “Sleeper keys with motion sensor technology that deactivates the fob when left undisturbed are a simple but effective step forward.