What’s behind the distressing rise in vehicle thefts? The Office for National Statistics recorded 130,389 vehicle thefts last year. This is an increase of 25% compared with 2021. Pretty worrying when you sit back and think about it. The figures are also influenced by the third national lockdown from January to March 2021, when crime rates fell.
A vehicle is stolen somewhere in the UK about every five minutes, at a national average rate of 146.63 per 100,000 population. That’s a lot of cars.
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Is technology to blame for a spike in grand theft auto?
Experts are attributing the rise to sophisticated new technology. More specifically, thieves are hacking into cars and starting them by breaching their internal computers. This will be shocking to those who believed that new technology meant bullet-proof security, compared to the hotwiring of yesterday.
As fast as security technology has evolved, so has the ingenuity of criminals. Automotive security experts have noted a surge in “relay thefts,” a technique where criminals use relay boxes to extend the signal of a car’s key fob, making it appear within range. This enables them to gain access to the vehicle, open its doors, and drive off undetected.
Thieves have taken to using Bluetooth speakers and repurposed mobile phones, these devices can connect to a vehicle’s system, granting unauthorized access and allowing it to be driven off.
Alex Borgnis, underwriting director of LV Insurance, said: “We’re seeing a continued rise in car theft and unfortunately this is likely to worsen, given the economic challenges we’re facing, the cost of living crisis and vehicle supply chain issues.”
Automotive cyber infiltration is the key to driving off without one
By exploiting flaws in some vehicle models, criminals can gain access to the car’s internal systems, including locks, immobilizers, and the engine. Some vehicles even feature external components that, when removed, expose wires providing direct access to the control network, enabling thieves to steal the car in as quickly as 90 seconds. The availability of illegal devices online further exacerbates the situation.
The international stolen vehicle market is thriving
Much like the used car market of the pandemic era, the stolen vehicle market is thriving as criminals seek to profit from their theft. To combat this issue, innovative technologies like AX Track have been instrumental in tracking and recovering stolen vehicles, leading to successful interceptions and the return of stolen cars.
Chop shops serve as illicit hubs where stolen vehicles are dismantled, and their parts are sold to individuals seeking replacements for damaged cars. These operations are usually run by sophisticated criminal networks, operating out of industrial units or mechanic premises, which makes the detection and recovery of stolen vehicles extremely challenging.
While the main reason that cars are stolen is for profit, it’s not the only reason. Stolen cars are also utilized in criminal activities. Criminals often employ stolen vehicles as getaway cars during robberies or for transporting drugs into rural areas and smaller towns (also called county lines). Certain car models, including Audi S3s, Honda Type Rs, and Ford Focus RS’, are particularly targeted due to their desirability and suitability for these purposes.
Is car theft part of a wider problem across the country?
Philip Swift, a former detective and now managing director of Claims Management & Adjusting Limited said: “The figures provide insights into the scale and pattern of the UK’s vehicle crime problem.
“When you consider that a high percentage of these will be expensive cars targeted by organised criminal gangs – vehicles that will very likely never be seen again – the pound note cost to insurers runs to billions, bringing pressure to increase premiums.”
Swift blames two things: policing and paperwork.
He continued “Why did Essex report the fifth highest number of vehicle thefts – six times as many as Merseyside last year? My personal view is that some constabularies appear to take car crime more seriously than others – they have better strategies and put in more effort.”
He highlighted a recent communication from Essex Police, revealing significant delays in claim processing, compounding the challenges faced by residents who not only experience a higher risk of car theft but also suffer long delays for their claims to be addressed.
In these times of heightened risk we recommend vehicle owners be vigilant and take sensible precautions. These can include simple measures such as storing vehicle keys in signal blocking box and parking in as safe a location as possible.
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