The Four Most Common Types of Auto-theft and How to Prevent Them

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Recent FBI crime statistics highlight a slight decline in US motor vehicle theft in 2018. Even so, there were well over 748,841 thefts recorded across the USA in the past year, amounting to economic losses of over $6 billion.

There’s no hiding the fact that motor crime has been on the rise in the past decade. And if you live in an urban locality, the chances are that felons will turn their attention to your vehicle at some point. When that happens, you need to know your likely weak points and be prepared.

License plate theft

Vanity plates can be a really neat addition to any vehicle. If you’re looking, you can pick up your own set of personalised number plates from PrimoRegistrations. Of course, the value of these can make you a natural theft target for criminals looking to make a quick buck on your valuable registration plates (it’s legal to auction registration plates in most US states).

More generally, there’s been a worrying trend of registration plate theft in certain areas of the US with criminals using plates for nefarious activity as well as selling them on to the highest bidder. In most states, when drivers receive a new registration sticker, they simply place it on top of previous stickers. This is a big mistake since the average thief can simply run a razor blade underneath the bottom layer, taking everything off with one well-placed swipe. Basic license plates will be secured with weak screws you can undo with a dime piece and frames you can all-too-easily detach from the bumper.

The solution:

To neutralize the threat, invest in theft-resistant plates that secure the plates with security screws that cannot be undone without a lot of time and effort. Security plates will also have stronger frames that shatter the plates if a thief tries to pry them loose, making the whole attempt redundant.

Jammer theft

While signal jammers have become more heavily policed in recent years, signal jammers have become more heavily policed in recent years. Felons can still make use of the latest models to intercept the signal coming from your car keys and stop it from locking. Sometimes, they’ll have hand-held devices they point to defuse your signal. Other times, they’ll set up a jammer in the bushes. Once they’ve managed to stop you locking your car, they can get inside and get it started with plenty of time on their hands.

The solution:

Always double-check that your car is actually locked. Vehicles today usually signal when they’re locked by making a noise or displaying lights. However, the only sure way to know your car is closed off to thieves is by manually checking any access points.

Relay attacks (keyless car theft)

Criminals move with the times and technology just like everyone else, and relay attacks are one of the best examples of this. Since it’s a new type of criminal activity, car manufacturers are only just wising up to it now. According to one UK-based vehicle tracking company, this type of crime accounted for 88% of all vehicle thefts in the country. These staggering figures show that it’s time to take it seriously here as well.

Usually relying on two criminals to carry them out, relay attacks are a hi-tech way of exploiting keyless technology to open and start a car. Using a relay transmitter, criminals receive the key signal from inside the home before transmitting this to an amplifier that tricks the car into opening up, starting and being driven off into the night.

The solution:
There are two things you should invest in to secure yourself against the threat of keyless thefts. Firstly, purchase a Faraday bag. This handy pouch is mesh lined to stop your signal from hitting the outside world, where it can be exploited by car thieves. You should also store your fob far away from any windows. Secondly, don’t neglect traditional security fittings. A good old-fashioned steering wheel lock will still put a spanner in the works for someone trying to drive off with your newly unlocked car.

Key cloning

If they can get hold of your car keys for a couple of minutes, or gain access to your car’s onboard diagnostics (OBD), there’s very little to stop criminals replicating your transponder key’s unique key code. Key code grabbing is another all-too-common practice, where felons capture your code from your fob signal as you lock your car.

Once they have your code, they can clone it, reproducing it on a blank key before gaining access and driving it off while you’re left unaware.

The solution:

Often, criminals acquire access to your vehicle, or even just its keys, via a seemingly legitimate outlet such as a carwash or a garage. It’s good practice to thoroughly vet any of these services before handing keys over to them. Be aware of any suspicious activity in your vehicle’s vicinity as well.

Multi-layered security should also help you to prevent this from happening even if criminals do get access to your keys or diagnostics: a steering wheel, handbrake, and gearstick locks are all solid deterrents, particularly for a new generation of technologically skilled criminals lacking in traditional hardware know-how.

Home entry

This is definitely one of the least common types of auto-theft, but it’s a strong reminder that securing your car starts with securing your home. Home entry car thefts still happen in 2019. Most break-ins happen while people are out of the house, but armed thefts are not unheard of. If someone breaks into your home with a weapon and demands you hand over the keys, then hand them over. No car is worth risking yourself and your family for.

The solution:

Make your home your castle. That means getting a great home security system, ensuring your front doors are up to scratch and setting up motion detectors as a bare minimum. You could also consider keeping your car keys in a safe, which will prevent the bulk of home entry car theft attempts.

The lessons from today are clear. Thieves are adapting to new technology and coming up with new ways to steal anything that’s not nailed down (namely your default fit registration plates). Good old-fashioned security hardware had fallen out of favor as cars became harder to hotwire, but there’s a renewed case for steering wheel locks and the like. You’ll sleep easy knowing that nobody’s going anywhere even if they find a way in.