With car thefts on the rise, an insurer has highlighted how criminals have been shifting their tactics to get their hands on an increasing number of motors.
Home Office data shows that 108,542 vehicles were stolen between April 2021 and March 2022 in England and Wales – a 22 per cent increase on the previous year.
Aviva examined claims data and found that cars with keyless technology are twice as likely to be pinched as those without these features, and criminals are becoming increasingly brazen as more are ditching the cover of darkness to steal vehicles in broad daylight.
Car thieves’ new tactics: The rise in keyless thefts has seen criminals ditch the cover of darkness and brazenly take vehicles from people’s homes in broad daylight
The insurer says claims records held on its database for between August 2020 and August 2022 show that the number of cars stolen with keyless entry and keyless start systems were twice the volume of models without the tech.
Aviva said it wouldn’t disclose further details of the actual number of claims or particular vehicle models as this information is ‘commercially sensitive’.
A spokesperson told This is Money: ‘Analysis of our claims data reveals that theft claims are twice as likely to occur for keyless vehicles than non-keyless models.’
However, they caveated: ‘Theft claims account for a very small proportion of our motor claims overall, at less than 10 per cent of motor claims.’
The insurer’s statement follows various reports on the rise in this type of crime, with criminals using ‘relay tactics’ to duplicate the signal produced by a car’s keyfob to steal vehicles without raising an alarm.
This has seen the daily average rate of vehicle thefts rise to an average of 279 in the last year, official Government figures suggest.
The most-stolen cars in the last 12 months
1. Ford Fiesta: 5,725
2. Land Rover Range Rover: 5,209
3. Ford Focus: 2,048
4. VW Golf: 1,959
5. Land Rover Discovery: 1,778
6. Vauxhall Corsa: 1,268
7. Vauxhall Astra: 1,215
8. Mercedes-Benz C-Class: 981
9. Audi A3: 805
10. Ford Ecosport: 656
11. Volkswagen Polo: 623
12. Nissan Qashqai: 580
13. Ford Kuga: 569
14. Toyota Yaris: 558
15. Audi A4: 534
Source: DVLA records provided to Rivervale Leasing. Figures are for 1 November 2021 to 28 November 2022
While many thieves are targeting high-value luxury cars with keyless features, the tech is now filtering down to mainstream vehicles, with models as mainstream as Ford’s Fiesta available with keyless entry since 2008.
With more models featuring keyless tech it has broadened the scope of vehicles that are vulnerable to this type of theft.
Thieves revealed in a recent study that they are often handed shopping lists of specific vehicles to target, which are commonly duplicate cars wanted to carry out other criminal activities or like-for-like models to replace damaged parts of another motor.
This is putting more drivers at risk of falling victim to motor crime, which goes some way to explain why vehicle claims increased by 13 per cent over the two-year period Aviva reviewed.
Published ONS data also reports that keyless entry is the most common method of access for vehicle thefts in England and Wales in the year ending March 2020, accounting for more than a third (36 per cent) of incidents. This is a significant increase from 13 per cent in the previous year.
Despite this, half (51 per cent) of keyless car drivers told the AA earlier this year that they do not take any extra precautions to protect their keyless cars from criminals.
The survey of 4,000 motorists with vehicles fitted with keyless tech found that only one in five (22 per cent) store their keyfobs in a ‘faraday’ pouch, which block the signal so criminals can’t access it.
One in ten (9 per cent) said they put their keys in a metal box or tin, while 7 per cent have a safe box for theirs. One per cent wrap their fobs in tin foil to block the signal, while the same proportion keep them in a microwave or oven overnight.
Alec Reeder from Aviva said criminal activity around vehicle thefts is ‘evolving’ from what we traditionally know, meaning our cars are becoming increasingly vulnerable in the daytime
Keyless thefts sees rise in car thefts during the day
The rise in keyless vehicle crime has seen a shift change in how and when motors are being stolen from their owners, Aviva adds.
Analysis of the ONS data found that three quarters of vehicle-related thefts (76 per cent) occurred during the hours of darkness.
How criminals steal cars using relay tactics
To target the latest – and usually high-end – motors, thieves are arming themselves with cheap technology that allows them to take cars without having to step foot into someone’s property to take the keys.
Keyless entry and keyless ignition means a driver only needs to have the car’s key on their body – in their pocket for instance – not only to unlock the doors but to start the engine.
While this is a convenience feature, it is also one that leaves owners susceptible to car crime.
Usually two thieves will work together when planning to pinch a car with keyless tech. One holds a transmitter and stands next to the car while the other stands close to the house holding an amplifier.
The amplifier can boost the signal from the key inside the property and send it to the transmitter.
The transmitter essentially becomes a ghost key and tricks the car into thinking the real key is nearby. This then opens the car and allows it to be driven away without causing any damage.
Insurers have estimated that around half of all car thefts are currently conducted in this way because criminals can do it quickly and in near silence, with gangs usually targeting vehicles in the middle of the night without raising suspicion.
However, there are growing cases of brazen criminals targeting cars during the day.
The study finds 65 per cent of vehicles were stolen at night in the year ending March 2020, compared to 77 per cent in the previous year, as thieves become more daring and relay thefts speed up the process of stealing vehicles.
The report also showed that the vast majority of vehicles are being taken from people’s driveways and outside their homes, with 73 per cent of thefts in 2020 from the owner’s property.
This is slightly down on the year previous, with 75 per cent.
Alec Reeder from Aviva said criminal activity around vehicle thefts is ‘evolving’.
He added: ‘Over the past two years, we’ve found claims for stolen keyless vehicles are twice as likely as those for non-keyless vehicles.
‘While theft claims account for only a small proportion of our vehicle claims overall, we understand that a stolen car can be very distressing for owners. We’d encourage people to take extra precautions, particularly at this time of year, when thieves have the added advantage of reduced daylight.’
Alec says old-fashioned mechanical devices – such as steering wheel and foot pedal locks – can be a useful visible deterrents that will ‘encourage thieves to think twice’.
Official figures for the year ending March 2010 show that 29 per cent of vehicles targeted by thieves also had a mechanical device installed, usually a steering lock.
A decade later, this had fallen to just 15 per cent, with drivers relying more on central locking, car alarms and tracking devices.
Aviva’s report comes just weeks after fellow insurer Direct Line revealed that thieves pocket only a mere fraction of your car’s full value after they’ve pinched it and try to move it on via the black market.
Criminals admitted to typically making just 1.25 per cent of the market price of a stolen vehicle, and at best hope to secure 5 per cent of what it is truly worth.
They explained that their payment for stealing a car worth up to £20,000 on the second-hand market – like a Ford Focus or Nissan Qashqai – would only be around £250, though some admitted stealing as many as 95 motors per week.
Five tips to protect your keyless car from thieves
1. Put your keyfob in a Faraday wallet/pouch
For the best level of protection, owners of cars with keyless tech should purchase a faraday pouch or wallet. You can buy these online for as little as £5 (Halfords currently sells one for £4.50).
The pouch isolates the fob’s signal so it can’t be infiltrated by thieves.
A metal tin or box will also provide similar protective levels, as will keeping your keyfob in a fridge freezer, microwave or oven – just remember they are in there before turning on the latter two.
Also, don’t forget about your spare keys and apply the same level of care you would to your main keys or fob.
Keeping your keyless fob in a tin will block the signal and prevent thieves from duplicating it to break into your vehicle
2. Use old-school theft deterrents
A simple steering wheel lock or wheel clamp might look ugly but are a great tool to deter even the hardiest criminals.
They will act as a visual deterrent for thieves who will likely avoid them.
For a criminal to remove a steering wheel lock typically requires the use of noisy drills or saws to cut through, and therefore they are the ideal first line of defence for owners with models that have keyless car tech.
Drivers should also consider wheel clamps as well as having alarm systems and trackers (read more about these below) installed.
Owners of vans with keyless technology should also consider fitting deadbolts for additional protection, especially if they store expensive tools and items in their commercial vehicles overnight.
3. Be mindful when locking your car
It may sound simple but if your vehicle has keyless entry, make sure it is locked every time you’re not in it, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes when you’re paying to park somewhere – thieves can take an unlocked car in seconds.
When it comes to locking, many modern cars have keys with two settings – for single and double locking.
Many drivers don’t realise that on many models if you press your key fob once your car will only be single locked.
This means that if you smashed the window you could manually open the car by reaching in and pulling the handle from the inside.
These fobs require a second press of the locking button to enable all security features. It is important to read your car’s manual to understand how to securely lock your car.
4. Think carefully about where you park overnight
Most often, keyless car thefts take place on owners’ driveways. While motorists might think having their vehicle in such close proximity to their property guarantees its security, this is certainly not the case when it comes to relay thefts – quite the contrary, in fact, as it means the car is closer to where they keys are inside your home.
That’s why owners with off-street parking should consider additional measures.
Driveway parking posts are a cheap and efficient way of deterring would-be thieves.
Drivers can go one step further and install lockable gates in their driveways, while the additoin of CCTV systems can provide further peace of mind.
For those without off-street parking who leave their cars on the road outside their home, you are also not safe from these criminals.
Consider parking further away from your property than usual so that criminals won’t be able to replicate your fob’s signal from inside your home.
And always try to find a space under a street light so that thieves are exposed when trying to steal your car at night.
If you live on a residential street where there are also business, park outside one with a CCTV camera installed.
5. Install a tracker
Installing a tracker system in your vehicle, such as a Thatcham approved device, offers an extra layer of security.
A tracking device won’t stop your vehicle being stolen, but it significantly increases the chances of the police recovering and returning it to you.