Surge in keyless crime as thieves take advantage of new technology

Oscar Quine
The advent of electronic fobs, which are used to unlock modern car doors, have led to a rise in 'keyless' car crime - iStockphoto

Keyless car crime surged last year as industry experts warned that criminals are embracing new technology to break into vehicles. 

Insurers paid out a record £271m in theft claims in the first nine months of this year - a 32 per cent increase on the same period last year, according to the Association for British Insurers. 

Malcolm Turling, of the ABI, said keyless car theft was the 'main driver' of the increase in thefts.

The advent of keyless technology, which requires drivers to use digital fobs instead of keys to unlock a car's door and start its engine, has created security problems for car manufacturers. 

Thieves are now using readily available technology to launch so-called 'relay attacks', in which handheld electronic devices are used to amplify the signal being given off by a digital fob from within a victim's house in order to fool a car parked outside into opening its door. 

Mr Turling said car manufacturers were in a constant battle to stay ahead of criminals as they employ increasingly sophisticated technology to break into vehicles.

"The industry recognises that car criminals don't stand still. As cars become better protected, criminals see a challenge to break into them. The sector is always working out how it can ahead."

The statistics, which show an 11 per cent increase in claims settled over the period, suggest a higher number of high-value vehicles being stolen. 

Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer at Thatcham Research, told The Telegraph that relay attacks require a certain level of knowledge and are likely to be carried out by gangs who use the technology to target more expensive vehicles.

 "Some level of knowledge is required. Where we're seeing this is with organised crime groups. It's not so much opportunistic thefts," he said.

"This is not off-the-shelf kit - this is specialist and bespoke, made from readily available equipment."

Mr Billyeald advised car owners to keep their keys away from the front of their houses - and doors and windows in particular - in order to reduce the likelihood of relay attacks. 

"A vehicle is a high-value item and owners need to be sure they're being careful with it. Like all security, there are many layers you can apply. It's about what you do and don't do," he said.