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.


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


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 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


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. 

Stolen in seconds: keyless new cars that fail security tests

Investigating keyless car theft

Car thefts in England and Wales are at an eight-year high, with 106,000 cars stolen in 2018 and even higher figures for 2019 so far. The cause, in many cases, is keyless car entry – and new tests reveal just how easy many popular cars are to steal. 

Thieves can use electronic signal relay devices to steal a car with keyless entry, often from outside the owner’s home. The system is fooled into unlocking the doors and starting the engine, allowing them to drive away. 

What Car? magazine has tested some new keyless-equipped cars, from the high-performance Audi TT RS Roadster to the new DS 3 Crossback. The results, as detailed below, are concerning.

How quickly can modern cars be stolen?

Investigating keyless car theft

The Audi TT RS could be ‘broken into’ in just five seconds and on the road after another five. The same was the case with the DS 3.

The Land Rover Discovery Sport was the next-worst performer, with entry taking 10 seconds and driving the car away taking 20. The full-size Land Rover Discovery allowed entry in 20 seconds, although driving away wasn’t possible.

The Mercedes-Benz A-Class hatchback wasn’t quite as easy to break into, with entry taking 30 seconds and movement taking another 20.

The best performers in the What Car? test were the Ford Fiesta and the BMW X3, both taking 40 seconds to get into and 20 seconds to drive away.

Fighting keyless theft 

Investigating keyless car theft

Some car manufacturers are fighting back. Audi, BMW, Ford and Mercedes-Benz have introduced motion-detection technology that switches off the signal emitted from the key when it isn’t moving.

The What Car? team of laboratory ‘thieves’ couldn’t open the doors of cars with this deactivation system fitted, although it isn’t widely available yet. Also, for those walking around with keys in pockets or handbags, the risk remains.

Investigating keyless car theft

Jaguar Land Rover plans a different approach. Instead of shutting the signal off, its new key has ultra-wide band signal technology. Thieves at present shouldn’t be able to lock on to the constantly varying signal.

One question is whether a recall or model-wide upgrade is warranted. For now, we also have a useful guide on how you can fight keyless theft. Click on the link below to learn more.

Investigating keyless car theft

“It is outrageous that some car makers have introduced keyless entry and start systems without making them anywhere near as secure as the traditional alternatives they’ve replaced,” said Steve Huntingford, editor of What Car?

“It is great news that a small number of brands are taking the problem of car theft seriously, but more needs to be done to improve security, particularly of desirable used models.”

‘No one size fits all’

In response, Mike Hawes, chief executive of  automotive trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said that vehicle manufacturers “are continually investing and developing new security features – including motion sensing key fobs and other technologies – to try and stay one step ahead of criminals, which is an ongoing and extremely costly battle.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and brands will have their own individual strategies to combat vehicle theft with lead-times to engineer, test and source new countermeasures varying across the industry.

“Ultimately, however, technology can only do so much and this is why industry continues to call for action to prevent the open sale of devices used by criminals to steal cars.”

Railway station car thefts have TREBLED in five years

car thefts treble at train station car parks

Thefts of cars parked at railway stations have trebled in the past five years, according to data from the British Transport Police.

Analysis by car sales comparison site Motorway has revealed that the number of motorised vehicles lifted from stations has increased by a massive 198 percent since 2014/15.

In raw numbers, that’s 414 vehicles stolen between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2019, compared with 139 between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2015. 

“These figures make depressing reading for commuters who split their journey into work across road and train,” said Alex Buttle, director of Motorway.

Bikes are a hot target

car thefts treble at train station car parks

“The rise in railways station thefts has been turbocharged by the growth in popularity of scooters and mopeds, which are an easy target for thieves,” warned Buttle

39 percent of vehicles stolen from railway stations are two-wheeled, with four of the top 10 most-stolen brands being bike brands. Watch out Honda (67), Yamaha (46), Piaggio (32) and Vespa (17) owners…

“Motorbikes, mopeds and scooters are particularly vulnerable, so ensure you have multiple security measures in place; such as wheel locks and clamps, plus heavy-duty chain link or brake disc locks to make your vehicle less appealing to opportunistic criminals.”

Overall, Ford came second to Honda in the most-stolen brand stakes, with 47 thefts: unlike Honda, all of those Ford thefts will be cars or vans.

London danger

car thefts treble at train station car parks

Other hot car brands include Land Rover (18), BMW (15), Range Rover (12) and Audi (11). If you lump Land Rover and Range Rover together, that’s 30 Land Rover thefts…

“Although most, if not all, stations car parks will have CCTV cameras, that doesn’t mean your vehicle won’t be targeted,” said Buttle. “Seasoned criminals know how to quickly gain access to cars, and many aren’t bothered by on-site security.”

As for where is the most at-risk, you won’t be surprised to read that the stations closest in proximity to London score the worst, with the top 10 being within an hour of the capital.

Car theft payouts are the highest for seven years

car theft claims at seven year high

Insurance companies are paying out more for car thefts than they have for the past seven years, claims the trade body for the insurance industry, The Association of British Insurers.

The figures for theft claims for January to March of 2019 are the highest since 2012. And while the ABI hasn’t given exact numbers, it acknowledges the proliferation of keyless car theft has played a part. 

car theft claims at seven year high

Recent figures from specific sources have corroborated claims of a rise in keyless theft. Tracker reported that 92 percent of cars it recovered in Essex were stolen using keyless theft, and that 88 percent of cars it recovered in 2018 were taken this way.

New top-line SUVs are a popular target, including the BMW X5, Range Rover Sport and Mercedes GLE.

car theft claims at seven year high

New cars with keyless systems have been slammed for their poor security, with numerous manufacturers issuing software updates.

Of 11 brand new 2019 models tested by Euro NCAP, six were ranked at least ‘poor’, with the Suzuki Jimmy getting an ‘unacceptable’ rating.

The Porsche Macan was updated to a superior rating, following clarification around the specification of a motion sensor in its key fob.

Is this the most stylish way to beat keyless car theft?

KeyBlock beat keyless car theft

It’s billed as the ’21st-century key holder… the world’s ultimate RFID case for your key’. And it could be the most stylish way to keep your vehicle safe from keyless car theft.

Just a couple of days after going live on Kickstarter, the company behind the KeyBlock signal-blocking case has attracted 78 backers and received more than £3,000 in pledges – far exceeding the original goal of £1,000.

This is hardly surprising given the number of cars stolen via the so-called ‘relay attack’ method, in which two criminals work together to steal a vehicle using electronic relay devices, usually from outside the owner’s home.

It has been described as an “epidemic” by the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, and a reason why the number of insurance claims for car thefts had risen by 12 percent to 56,000 in 2018 compared with 2017.

There are ways to avoid being a victim of keyless car theft, such as placing your car keys in a microwave or fridge, or keeping the key in a Faraday pouch. Some owners are even turning to the humble steering lock in an effort to avoid becoming a victim of a relay attack.


The KeyBlock

KeyBlock is manufactured by British firm Vanacci, and its launch is timed to take advantage of the media coverage surrounding keyless car theft and our love of nice things. Which is why KeyBlock uses the same leathers found in high-end cars and can be engraved with your own unique message.

You can even buy a 24-carat gold KeyBlock for £100, although we suspect the majority of customers will opt for the standard case, which is available by pledging £30 or more. This is significantly more than you’ll pay for a standard Faraday bag, but on the face of it, KeyBlock is a more aesthetically pleasing product.

According to the Kickstarter page, deliveries are expected in September, so we’ll provide a thorough review when we can get our hands on the product.

Other features include a push button ejector, a buttoned cap, a split ring for your house keys, and an internal mechanism designed for keyless ignition. It means that the key can sit within the pouch while ‘speaking to the car’. A neat touch.

KeyBlock in car

Key relaying is ‘a big problem’

Sales director Ryan Ward said: “After a conversation with a client, and a coincidental news report, we realised that key relaying was a big problem.

“Looking at what was already on the market, we were disappointed with the metal boxes and cheap pouches available. That’s where KeyBlock comes in: it’s discreet yet beautiful and isn’t just about form.”

Available in a variety of leathers found in the likes of Aston Martin and Tesla, KeyBlock is offered in two sizes to fit any key. The company claims to have tested a variety of signal-blocking materials before settling on the design.

It’s not as cheap as placing your keys in a microwave at night, but if it stops car thieves in their tracks, we’re all for it.

Car break-ins are on the rise - with London hit the hardest

The UK’s most dangerous places to own a car revealed

car crime

Comparison experts Quotezone have collated numbers on the most dangerous places in the country to own a car. Perhaps unsurprisingly, our Capital takes the cake.

The locations are ranked for both accident rates and vehicle offence rates. Vehicle offences include anything criminal involving a car: theft of, and from, and anything else in between

Topping the list with a dramatic car danger rate of 97.86 is City of London. Second-placed Northern Scotland is way, way back at 28.17.

The safest place to own a car, out of 45 policing regions, is North Wales, enjoying a danger rate of 7.29. In general, southern and eastern areas including Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Essex are in the bottom half of safest places to have a car.

Norfolk, however, is third to the top of the safest, with a car danger rate of 8.98. Quite the achievement compared to neighbouring Lincolnshire, with 12.37.

Worryingly, vehicle-related theft is said to be on the up, rising 17 percent between 2016 and 2017. Furthermore, vehicle offences such as speeding and drink driving are up 12 percent.

As for how to reduce the chances of your car coming under attack, the following measures can do a world of good:

  • Keep valuables out of site – a car packed with visible treasures can look like an easy target
  • Turn your wheel to the curb – if robbers trigger your steering lock, they’ll have a hard time moving it away from the curb
  • Install an anti-theft system – whether it’s a tracker, an immobiliser or an alarm, or all of the above

When it comes to car crime, every little helps. Don’t give the criminals an easy ride.

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