Keyless cars now make up nearly half of car thefts - despite only accounting for one per cent of vehicles on the road.
Luxury car brands such as Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Mercedes, Porsche and Tesla are increasingly affected by keyless theft, which now account for 48 per cent of all “theft of” vehicle claims, according to LV= General Insurance.
Yet just one in 100 of all cars on the road today have keyless entry systems although the technology is trickling down from the premium sector to more affordable cars, according to Thatcham Research, the UK insurance industry’s research body.
It means such motorists are 50 times more likely to be victims of theft and the rise has prompted police chiefs to warn that organised crime gangs are increasingly targeting cars with keyless fobs which are often stolen to order from outside drivers’ homes by intercepting or blocking the signals.
Car crime fell during the pandemic but the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said there was evidence the gangs are back with provisional figures showing a 3.1 per cent increase in thefts in just a month, from 6,513 in May to 6,740 in June.
This compares with a low of 5,181 in April 2020 and an overall 21 per cent decline in vehicle crime during lockdowns.
Police intelligence shows organised crime gangs are using relay technology to receive the signal from a key inside a house and transfer it to a portable device, allowing them to unlock and drive the car. In other reported cases, criminals jam the signal so that the driver wrongly believes they have locked the car.
A car’s keyless fob uses short-range radio waves to transmit a signal which is picked up by a receiver in the car. If the signal is recognised, the car doors unlock either automatically or with the press of a button - a method that is then used to start the vehicle.
Assistant Chief Constable Jenny Sims, the NPCC lead on vehicle crime, said: “Car theft is a serious crime that causes significant distress and upset to owners and police are putting considerable resources into tackling it and bringing those responsible to justice.
“These crime gangs care little for the impact they have on ordinary people but they should know that the police are coming after them.
“We are carrying out proactive operations every single week and as recent results show, they can expect to spend a significant time in prison when we catch them.”
Last week Leicestershire Police secured the conviction of seven members of an organised crime gang who were involved in more than 50 keyless thefts involving vehicles totalling £2.4 million. They were jailed for a total of more than 30 years.
Earlier this month in Liverpool, five people, including those pictured above, were sentenced to a total of more than 23 years in prison after being convicted of a range of offences, including the theft of keyless cars totalling around £2.6 million, while Cheshire Constabulary secured the conviction of a man for several car and key burglaries. He was sentenced to more than seven years’ imprisonment last week.
Ms Sims added: “I would urge drivers to take simple steps to keep their vehicle safe, such as storing keys in metal tins or protective pouches that block the devices criminals are using. A return to basics like making sure your car is locked is worthwhile, too.
“We know from research that some owners think that cars automatically lock - they don’t. Always double check before you walk away that it’s locked.”
Alex Borgnis, LV= General Insurance head of motor underwriting, said there was evidence cars were being stolen to order with surges in thefts in particular geographical areas.
“There are vehicles being stolen at night and within hours they are in a container being shipped abroad,” she said.
There was also a black market in parts including electric vehicles’ powertrains, which could be used to revamp an older previously petrol-engined classic car, she added.