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The car brands that have NOT fixed keyless theft risks

keyless car theft

Fourteen car manufacturers have failed to tackle keyless car crime. That’s according to consumer group Which?.

Keyless car theft involves two criminals working together using electronic signal relay devices to steal a vehicle. Typically, this takes place outside the owner’s home.

One criminal stands by the car, while the other one stands close enough to the house to pick up the signal from the key fob. This signal is transferred to a second box, effectively fooling the car into ‘thinking’ the key is present.

Only Tesla and Mercedes-Benz have fixed the problem across new and existing cars, says Which? A shocking 14 manufacturers have taken no action.

Citroen, DS, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Lexus, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Peugeot, Renault, SsangYong, Suzuki and Vauxhall/Open told the consumer group they have failed to tackle keyless car theft. Fiat Chrysler didn’t respond to the Which? questions.

The likes of Ford, Land Rover and Volvo have upgraded their security systems on newer models, but aren’t planning to roll this out for older vehicles.

‘Done nothing about it’

Mazda CX-30

Which? editor Lisa Barber said: “It’s unacceptable that several manufacturers have still done nothing about it. While we’re glad to see some are already implementing tougher security measures, too many are still ignoring the risks.

“More must be done to protect the thousands of insecure cars already on the road.”

Earlier this year, four cars were rated ‘poor’ in security assessments published by Thatcham Research. The Mazda CX-30, MG HS Excite T-GDI, Subaru Forester e-Boxer XE Premium and Vauxhall Corsa Ultimate Turbo 100 were slammed for having ‘inherent security vulnerabilities’.

Meanwhile, the Tesla Model 3 and Hyundai i10 Premium were rated ‘basic’.

There was better news for seven cars rated ‘superior’ by Thatcham. The BMW X6 M50d, BMW 218i Gran Coupe M Sport, Land Rover Discovery Sport D150, Mini Electric, Porsche Taycan Turbo, Skoda Superb and Toyota Supra were praised for their all-round security.

‘Missing commonly accepted security measures’

MG HS

Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer at Thatcham Research said: “The keyless vulnerability continues to be a concern to car owners. However, it is not the only factor behind recent increases in vehicle theft.

“Our assessment found that the rated Hyundai, MG and Tesla models are missing some commonly accepted security measures. These measures were introduced to improve core car security and represent the minimum today’s drivers should expect, whatever the vehicle price point.

“The number of carmakers now offering relay attack counter-measures with new vehicles is steadily increasing and should be applauded. However, all new cars with keyless systems ought to have a solution to this long-standing vulnerability in place.

“It’s also important to remember that the motion-sensor fob, while a good short-term fix, is not the ultimate solution to the keyless vulnerability, which should be designed-out of new vehicles completely in the future.”

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Car crime spike expected during lockdown

Car parts stolen

The shortage of new car parts could lead to a rise in the number of vehicle-related thefts. That’s the warning from a leading car tracking company.

It says opportunistic criminals are targeting vehicles to fill the replacement parts gap, caused by the shutting down of manufacturer supply chains. Police are fighting an increase in the number of ‘chop shops’, where stolen vehicles are stripped for their parts. These parts are then sold on.

Although criminals tend to target premium and expensive vehicles, no car is immune from the problem. Indeed, Tracker recently recovered a Volkswagen Polo worth less than £600.

Stolen cars are often left for up to four days to check they are not being tracked. Once the coast is clear, the vehicle is taken to a garage to have its identity changed, with high-value parts removed for sale.

Clive Wain, head of police liaison at Tracker said: “These are unprecedented times, and sadly we cannot look into the future to see how long the current restrictions will affect the car manufacturer supply chain. However, what we can do is protect ourselves while it does. Sadly, whilst we are seeing many positives come out of the current crisis – such as communities pulling together and environmental benefits – we could in the coming weeks and months see criminals take advantage of new opportunities.

“With movement so restricted, most of us are using our cars far less frequently, so it is easy to get out of the habit of checking doors are locked and keys are secured after those rare essential journeys. It’s even easier to forget these good habits after popping out to the car to collect something you left behind.

”Ninety-two percent of the vehicles we recovered last year were stolen without the thief having possession of the vehicle’s keys. As such, we advise owners of all vehicles to take extra care to fully secure their vehicle and keep remote locking keys as far away from the car as possible, and in a closed tin so that they are protected against relay-attacks.”

How to protect your car during the lockdown

Lockdown car crime

Tracker has the following advice for keeping your car safe during the lockdown:

  • Protect your key fob. To prevent keyless car theft, keep the key away from where the vehicle is kept when not in use. Click here for tips to avoid being targeted by keyless car thieves.
  • Switch off and lock up. Never leave your car running idle and unattended. During the lockdown, the advice is to keep the car running for 20 minutes to maintain battery life, but make sure you stay with the vehicle.
  • Make life difficult for thieves. Fit security gates if you’re parking on the drive. Opportunistic thieves prefer an easy ride.
  • Don’t advertise your stuff. Remove personal belongings from the vehicle.
  • Keep paperwork indoors. Don’t store personal documents or spare keys in the car.
  • Plan for the worst. Consider installing security cameras and lighting.
  • Use a steering wheel lock.

Click here to find out how to keep your car safe from catalytic converter theft during the lockdown.

Tesla Model 3 gets ‘basic’ Thatcham security rating

Tesla Sentry Mode battery drain

Thatcham Research has released its first Consumer Security ratings of the year. It’s a poignant topic, given that thefts are up five percent overall, as keyless hacking continues to proliferate. One of the surprise losers in Thatcham’s research is the Tesla Model 3. It achieved only a ‘Basic’ rating.

Thatcham says that the Tesla Model 3, along with models from Hyundai and MG, is “missing some basic security features”. Features like an immobiliser, alarm, double locking system and wheel security are minimum insurer requirements. 

That said, the Tesla is a very different type of car and might not require some of these features given its advanced connectivity capabilities.

Tesla Model 3 Thatcham security criticism

“Thatcham Research has been working closely with Tesla on the security features on the Model 3,” said Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer, Thatcham Research.

“Their ability to enhance security functionality via advanced connectivity across all vehicles is a huge advantage.”

Given the problem of keyless theft and relay attacks at the moment, the Model 3 also enjoys an advantage. Unlike many other cars, with signal-based keyless systems, the Tesla uses NFC (near field communications), which requires a key card to be ‘tapped’ against the car. This means it’s not susceptible to relay attacks.

Tesla Model 3 Thatcham security criticism

There is also Tesla’s Sentry Mode to consider, which has not been mentioned in Thatcham’s summary. This is likely because it’s an opt-in security feature that drivers need to activate.

Nevertheless, alarms, cameras, on-screen warnings – all are valuable security features and deterrents. Albeit, they are optional, and they can be juicy when it comes to battery drain.

The 10 cars most at risk of keyless car theft

Keyless theft record highs in 2019

New data has revealed the extent of the keyless car theft problem in the UK. Last year, around 92 percent of cars recovered by a leading stolen vehicle recovery (SVR) company were taken without keys.

Tracker, the SVR company behind the data, noted that this was up from 2018’s figure of 88 percent. It’s also 26 percent up from four years ago, when the figure stood at 66 percent.

So what cars were the most prone to being stolen with keyless hacks? Tracker has provided a top ten.

The 10 most-stolen (and recovered) cars taken with keyless theft

  1. Range Rover Sport
  2. BMW X5
  3. Mercedes-Benz C-Class
  4. Range Rover Vogue
  5. Land Rover Discovery
  6. BMW X6
  7. Range Rover Evoque
  8. BMW 3 Series
  9. Range Rover Autobiography
  10. Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Keyless theft record highs in 2019

Luxury SUVs are a boon for keyless thieves, with the Range Rover Sport and BMW X5 taking the top two spots. In total, five of the top ten are Land Rovers, while BMW’s X6 SUV coupe is in sixth. The Range Rover Sport jumped to first from eighth in 2018.

The most expensive vehicle Tracker helped to recover was a £150,000 Range Rover SV Autobiography – the flagship of the Range Rover lineup. The least expensive car stolen, then recovered, by a tracker, was a Volkswagen Polo, with a value of £575 (although that was unlikely to have been taken via keyless theft). Fifty-four thieves were detained in connection with the vehicles recovered last year. Even more interestingly, 67 other vehicles without a tracker were recovered in addition to those that were.

These premium vehicles are often stolen to order by organised criminals. According to Tracker, the cars are often shipped to Eastern Europe and North Africa.

Keyless theft record highs in 2019

“Our data has revealed that keyless car theft continues to rise, with 9 out of 10 of the stolen cars we recovered in 2019 taken this way,” said Clive Wain, head of police liaison for Tracker. 

“Thieves exploit keyless technology by using sophisticated equipment, which can hijack the car key’s signal from inside an owner’s home and remotely fool the system into unlocking the doors and start the engine. This is commonly known as a relay attack.

“To help prevent car owners falling victim to keyless car theft, traditional visual deterrents, such as crook locks and wheel clamps can help deter thieves and are a good investment to make.  However, in the event of a car being stolen, vehicle tracking technology will not only help police close the net on thieves but see a stolen vehicle returned to its rightful owner.”

Revealed: the most-wanted ‘shopping list’ for car thieves

Car thieve's shopping list

The most in-demand vehicles for theft in 2019 have been revealed, based on what criminals might be paid when they sell them.

The figures come from vehicle protection provider, AX. Car thefts have risen from 75,308 annually in 2013-2014 to 112,000 in 2017-2018: a rise of 50 percent in five years.

As we’ve previously reported, a large driver of this increase is the proliferation of keyless theft.

Car thieve's shopping list

Premium brands such as Audi, BMW, Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz dominate the ‘shopping lists’ of car thieves.

In fact, the AX list of most-wanted cars is composed exclusively of models from those brands. Remember, these aren’t necessarily the cars that are stolen the most, but those thieves can best profit from.

‘A’ models from Audi, ranging from the A1 to the A5, have a post-theft value of just £1,000. Models from BMW, from the 2 Series through to the 5 Series, can go for between £1,500 and £1,800. The Mercedes C-Class undercuts them slightly, retailing for between £1,000 and £1,500.

Car thieve's shopping list

Large SUVs are the big-ticket items for thieves, though. The BMW X5 has a post-theft value of between £1,800 and £2,000.

Likewise, a Range Rover goes for between £1,500 and £2,000. The performance SVR variant, like anything from Mercedes-AMG, can fetch between £2,000 and £3,000.

Car thieve's shopping list

“We know how the criminals operate but, with the UK theft figures in mind, it’s a sharp reminder of the problem car owners and the industry faces,” said Neil Thomas, director of investigative services at AX.

“The list is quite shocking, despite my 30 years working in the police force. Business and private owners alike are affected by the increase in thefts, so it’s paramount to take precautions to avoid being targeted, or ensure vehicles have robust covert technology so that they can be recovered.”

Keyless car thieves using WhatsApp to plan crimes

Car thieves use whatsapp for planning

WhatsApp is the chat platform of choice for car thieves, according to vehicle protection specialists AX. The service’s end-to-end encryption makes it appealing for those who want to avoid digital eavesdropping.

According to AX, WhatsApp is used to draw up lists of ‘target’ cars, and organise thefts to order. Buyers for the cars or parts to be stripped from them are arranged in advance. 

One factor that could make a car a target is, of course, the ease of theft using keyless system loopholes. The spike in such thefts is an ongoing problem for police.Keyless car theft 'sleeping keys'

The end-to-end encryption of WhatsApp makes it very difficult for authorities to monitor organised thieves. It’s the equivalent of a phone line that can’t be tapped. 

In the 2017-2018 period, 112,000 cars were stolen in the UK. For context, the 2013-2014 figure was 75,308 cars. That’s a rise of 50 percent in five years.

Some carmakers have introduced extra security measures, such as ‘sleep mode’ for keyfobs, but these have been described as ‘not foolproof’. 

Car thieves use whatsapp for planning

“The highly organised criminal networks are constantly looking for more secure ways to carry on their ‘businesses’ online and use social media with encrypted messaging capabilities or even online games to covertly communicate with each other” said AX director of investigative services, Neil Thomas.

“The sheer volume of thefts is practically a car theft epidemic and is enabling criminals to purchase costly technology, which then fuels even more car crime.

“The thieves who take the initial risk get the cash payment, then the buyer, who now has a tracker-free car, can then take their time to strip it, clone it or export it. This is where the profit is, especially in terms of the parts which can amount to much more than the complete vehicle.”

New ‘sleep mode’ fights keyless car thieves, but it isn’t foolproof

Keyless car theft 'sleeping keys'

A new batch of Consumer Security Ratings has been announced by car security experts, Thatcham. They reveal the latest cars to incorporate technology to fight keyless thieves.

Six new models have gained ‘superior’ ratings. These are the Audi A6 Allroad, BMW 1 Series, BMW 8 Series, BMW X6, Ford Puma and Volkswagen Passat.

The Audi, BMW, Ford and Volkswagen all improve their security rating by being available with ‘sleeping’ motion-sensitive key fobs.

What is a ‘sleeping’ car key fob?

Keyless car theft 'sleeping keys'

A ‘sleeping’ key fob only activates when it senses movement. Previously, keys constantly emitted a signal, allowing hackers to ‘hijack’ this to unlock and start cars. A ‘sleeping key’ left in your house shouldn’t fall prey to hackers.

“The models rated from Audi, BMW, Ford and Volkswagen not only have strong all-round security but have also made motion sensor enabled fobs available as standard when buyers opt for keyless entry and start,” said Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer at Thatcham Research.

“It’s positive news for consumers that carmakers, in increasing measure, are making this fix available.”

‘A fundamental security flaw remains’

Keyless car theft 'sleeping keys'

However, what isn’t known is exactly how long it takes a key you’ve put down to go into ‘sleep mode’.

“We advise consumers to check how long it takes before the sleep mode on their keyless fob is engaged. Some fobs go to sleep in one or two minutes, others in 15 or even as long as 30 minutes.”

For those without fobs that have this update, or if you’re still worried, there are a number of other options. A ‘Faraday pouch’ has a similar effect, making sure the signal can’t get out.

Keyless car theft 'sleeping keys'

While this ‘fix’ is rolling out now, there are a lot of cars still at risk. Even the sleeping key is described as more of a short-term fix, given the time it takes to enter ‘sleep mode’.

“The motion sensor fob is a good short-term option,” said Billyeald, “but the goal for carmakers must be to design out the vulnerability entirely. Until then, a fundamental security flaw remains.”

Car steering lock sales DOUBLE in the fight against keyless theft

Steering lock sales double

Sales of steering locks have DOUBLED over the past year, says Halfords, as the true scale of the keyless theft issue is revealed.

Like Bond in Skyfall when he carted M off to Scotland in his decidedly analogue and therefore untraceable Aston Martin, modern car owners are going old-school and heavy-duty to protect their cars from thieves. 

High-tech keyless thieves have been hacking cars. With nothing but software, they unlock, start and steal them, without so much as a scratch or a triggered alarm.

They hijack the signal from your keys that unlocks and primes the car to start when you near it. As a result, Halfords reckons consumers have gone old-school. It’s reporting that sales of steering locks have doubled.

Steering lock sales double

Traditionally, it’s the time of year for car thefts to increase. Daylight in short supply and unattended defrosting cars are just a couple of reasons why more cars are stolen in the winter months.

In a survey of 2,000 motorists, Halfords found that 25 percent use steering locks, while just five percent have invested in an RFID wallet to shield their fobs from keyless signal hijacking.

“Organised gangs have mastered how to get around high-tech security devices, leading to a significant rise in car thefts across the UK,” said Pavan Sondhi, car security expert at Halfords. 

Steering lock sales double

“To guard against falling victim to these car thieves, Police are advising drivers to invest in a physical deterrent.

“Classic steel steering locks first became popular in the 1980s and 90s but remain an extremely effective – and visual – way of deterring thieves, and we’ve recently seen a huge increase in sales as car owners turn to old school solutions.”

In response to demand, Halfords has launched a range of items to secure your car. While they do offer an anti-theft key wallet, everything else is decidedly more analogue. Take your pick between a T-Bar steering lock with an alarm, a wheel clamp, or a double bar steering lock.

Keyless car theft

Keyless car theft – how to prevent it and stay safe

Keyless car theft

The use of keyless car theft techniques is allowing thieves to break into some brand new motors and steal them in just 10 seconds, according to new research

Recent national figures show almost 110,000 vehicles were stolen in 2017: that’s 12 per hour.

Keyless car theft is now being described as an “epidemic” by the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson – and worryingly, car manufacturers appear to have little control over the rise in a technique known as relay crime.

“Thefts involving electronic devices are on the up and it’s clear that manufacturers could do more to make their vehicles secure,” said Jamieson.

But what is keyless car theft and how can you avoid being a victim?

Following years of a downward trend in the number of vehicle thefts, the so-called ‘relay attack’ is seen as a significant contributor to the 30 percent rise in car thefts in England and Wales between 2013 and 2016. 

In fact, a study conducted by vehicle tracking experts, Tracker, found that 96 percent of motorists are at risk of having their car stolen using this method.

Keyless car theft

What is keyless car theft?

A ‘relay attack’ is worryingly simple, making it all the more alarming for owners of cars with a keyless entry system. Once a car has been targeted, two criminals work together using electronic signal relay devices to steal the vehicle, normally from outside the owner’s home.

One criminal stands by the targeted car, while the other one stands close enough to the house to enable the device to pick up the signal from the key fob.

This signal is transferred to the second box, which is placed alongside the car or in the hands of the criminal, effectively fooling the car into ‘thinking’ the key is present.

With the doors unlocked, the criminals can start the car at the press of a button, leaving them free to drive away. In 2017, a group of researchers at Qihoo 360 were able to steal a car with a pair of gadgets built for just $22 (£16), while relay devices can be purchased online for as little as £100.

Considering a car can be gone in 60 seconds, this is an incredibly tempting proposition for wannabe car thieves.

Van drivers at risk

Van drivers are also at risk of falling victim to this new crime, with Tracker reporting that 82 percent of Light Commercial Vehicles (LCVs) were stolen without the owner’s keys, with the Ford Transit accounting for more than half of all LCV recoveries made by the firm.

“Keyless entry technology has now been widely adopted in the LCV market, and this is evident in the fact that last year there was a two-fold increase in LCVs being stolen without the owner’s keys,” said Andy Barrs, head of police liaison at Tracker.

“The relatively new trend in vehicle theft termed ‘relay attack’, that allows criminals to harness more sophisticated theft techniques to overcome existing vehicle security technology, such as immobilisers and keyless entry systems, has played a significant part in this increase.”

How to avoid being a victim of keyless car theft

Instances of keyless car theft typically occur in residential areas, especially at night, so motorists are advised to be on their guard when at home. However, while car theft is on the rise – figures from West Midlands Police revealed that 9,451 cars were stolen in 2017, up from 5,344 in 2015 – there are steps you can take to protect your vehicle.

Although the relay device signal can pass through doors, walls and windows, it cannot penetrate metal, so storing your keys inside a metal container, a signal blocking wallet or even a microwave will safeguard your vehicle against an attack.

You can purchase a signal blocker pouch (or Faraday bag) for as little as £8 on Amazon, but do test it to ensure it is successful in blocking the signal. While it’s a good idea to store your keys away from the window or front door, think carefully before taking the keys upstairs or hiding them in the bedroom.

Relay crime

If a thief is determined to break into the house to find the keys, it’s perhaps better to let them take the vehicle than to put you or your family at risk. Other steps you could take to avoid being a victim of keyless car theft include:

  • Check to see if your vehicle’s key fob can be switched off when not in use.
  • Make sure the vehicle is locked. An opportunist thief might use a ‘jammer’ to intercept the signal between the key fob and the car, leaving the vehicle vulnerable to attack. Be on your guard.
  • Think about investing in a steering wheel lock. These provide a visual form of protection as well as adding extra minutes to the seconds it might take to steal a car using a relay attack. Locks cost from as little as £20.
  • Add a tracking device. While it won’t stop a car being stolen, it will increase the chances of the police locating it and returning it to its owner.

Update: in January 2019, Halfords reported a 50 percent increase in the sales of steering locks, amid news that a significant proportion of motorists are leaving their cars unlocked.

New cars ‘never been more secure’

In 2017, RAC insurance director, Mark Godfrey, warned: “We fear thieves are now becoming more and more well equipped with technology capable of defeating car manufacturers’ anti-theft systems.

“This is bad news for motorists, as it has the effect of causing insurance premiums to rise at a time when they are already being pushed up by a variety of factors, not least the recent change to the discount rate for life-changing personal injury compensation claims and the rises in insurance premium tax.”

In response, SMMT chief executive, Mike Hawes, said: “New cars have never been more secure and the latest technology has helped bring down theft dramatically – which is why less than 0.3 percent of the vehicles on the road is stolen today.

‘Technology can only do so much’

“Manufacturers invest billions to stay one step ahead of the criminals and the latest models feature sophisticated immobilisers, tracking devices and encrypted key codes to prevent cloning.”

Hawes called upon authorities to tackle the issue of keyless car theft head on, saying: “Technology can only do so much, and we continue to call for stronger safeguards to prevent the sale of cloning technologies, signal blocking and other devices that have no legal purpose.”

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The 6 ways used car fraudsters try to fool you

How car sales scammers try to get you

There are numerous ways fraudsters try to dupe used car buyers. Whether it’s the condition of the car itself, or the process of paying for it – you have to be vigilant at every stage.

Vehicle valuation specialist HPI has compiled a list of the methods car sales scammers use. Here are the six main issues to be aware of.

Clocking

It’s the oldest trick in the book. For as long as cars have been on the road, those selling them have been winding back mileage. Fewer miles mean more money, after all. 

Clocking is less of a problem with modern cars. MOT history checks via the government website can usually show you the progress of a vehicle’s mileage over the years.

Needless to say, if it goes from 70,000 to 30,000 between one MOT and the next, drop it like a hot potato. You should expect a documented service history with any car you buy, so use this to double-check.

How car sales scammers try to get you

Cut-and-shut

One of the most dangerous scams, being the victim of a cut-and-shut means your car could be unsafe to drive.

A cut-and-shut is a crashed car that has been welded together with a donor car. Needless to say, structural strength often isn’t up to par.

Inspect the car you’re buying closely. Look at door shuts and panel gaps to see if they’re tight and even, then examine the chassis underneath.

Cloning

Cloning is a bit less ‘Dagenham Dave’ and a bit more ‘organised crime’. It involves a car being stolen and given the identity of an identical model that isn’t stolen.

It likely won’t come with a V5 registration document, so that’s your first warning sign. If you’re not sure, call the DVLA to confirm the V5 is genuine.

How car sellers try to scam you

Ringing

Similarly to cloning, a stolen car is given a new identity by a scammer. The difference here is that the identity is from a car that’s been written off. Yet another reason to be cautious around cars with crash categorisations such as ‘Cat D’.

Make sure the chassis number matches the V5, and that the vehicle identification (VIN) plate hasn’t been tampered with.

Aim to match the address where you view the car with the V5, too. If you have a stolen car, the police will seize it and you’ll be out of pocket, regardless of who is at fault.

Hire car fraud

It’s as simple as it sounds. This involves a scammer hiring a car and then selling it to you.

In other words, it’s the sale of a stolen car. Carry out all the basic checks, including the V5 document, and walk away if there isn’t one.

How car sales scammers try to get you

Deposit fraud

Deposit fraud is where a scammer will pressure you to send money in advance, especially if you can’t view the car right away.

It’s a technique used by long-distance fraudsters, and indeed people selling parts as well as cars. If you must send a deposit, get a receipt.

Even deposit-holding third-party services can be risky. Make sure any service you use is registered and approved by Trading Standards.