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Tool theft: new investigation shows how criminals could get into your van in as little as six seconds

3-minute read

Sam Bromley

Sam Bromley

15 February 2019

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As thieves become more sophisticated, a new investigation shows just how easy it is for them to get into your motor.

  • How to keep tools safe in a van

Last year we reported on criminals using the ‘relay’ method to break into vehicles without leaving any sign of damage.

It’s a high-tech technique that exposes a security flaw in keyless vehicles. Using a legal device, two thieves can replicate the signal from your car’s key fob. One crook will try the door, which sends a signal to one device that bounces to another scanner held by the second criminal.

That signal is then directed to your car keys, which tell your vehicle to open its doors.

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Thieves can get into a Ford Focus in just six seconds

An investigation carried out by The Sun led to their team breaking into 10 vehicles in a matter of minutes using this method.

The most worrying of these break-ins? The Sun managed to get into a solicitor’s Ford Focus in just six seconds. The owner of the car, Bryan Johnston, quipped to the team: “Gone in 60 seconds? Gone in six seconds, more like. I’m genuinely shocked how easy it was. It can’t be right for manufacturers to produce vehicles that are patently not secure.”

The Sun, who had permission from the owners of the vehicles to try breaking in, also managed to get into these vehicles:

  • Skoda Kodiaq (10 seconds)
  • Nissan Qashquai (10 seconds)
  • Jaguar F Type R (11 seconds)
  • Mazda 2 Sport (12 seconds)
  • Renault Megane (13 seconds)
  • Range Rover Velar (16 seconds)
  • Hyundai Tuscon (19 seconds)
  • Volvo S90 (23 seconds)
  • Volkswagen Golf (42 seconds)

The Sun notes that “the scanners will work on almost all keyless cars.” This extends to vans, too.

In March 2018, Commercial Fleet reported data from Tracker, which showed that 82 per cent of vans were stolen without keys in 2017. This was up 44 per cent from 2016. They said that the Ford Transit was the most popular van stolen and specifically called out the cost of replacing tools as a huge burden following vehicle theft.

What’s being done to protect owners against keyless thefts?

Because of how these devices work, thieves can steal vehicles (and their contents) from under their owners’ noses.

If your vehicle’s on your driveway and your keys are nearby, crooks could get inside and drive away while you’re in your house.

The Sun’s investigation uncovered a Moscow-based company selling these devices online. The Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) told The Sun that it takes scanner thefts “extremely seriously” and that: “They are working closely with government, insurers and police forces to stop the open sale of equipment which has no legal purpose.”

Ford said that they’ll be introducing a sleep mode for its key fobs. If one’s been still for 40 seconds, it’ll power down – blocking the signal.

Skoda said they’ll be introducing a similar system and Volkswagen, Nissan, Hyundai, Volvo and Mazda all claim they’re making an effort to improve their vehicles’ security.

What can you do to protect your vehicle and your tools?

The devices themselves are legal, and The Sun says that the police can only arrest someone with a scanner if they can prove intent to steal.

So while vehicle manufacturers play catch-up and with the police hamstrung, it’s really important you’re taking all the steps you can to protect your vehicle and your tools.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Remember the basics: stick to all the usual security methods. You can park for tool theft prevention, with sliding or rear doors against a wall or sturdy fence so they can’t be opened. And make sure you keep your keys away from doors and windows, which will make it more difficult for thieves to amplify the signal. You could also put the keys in a metal box or pouch, which may block the signal.
  • Think about a steering lock: there are physical ways to prevent criminals driving away with your vehicle – think about a steering wheel lock, a driveway parking post, or a wheel clamp. They can act as a good deterrent too.
  • Mark your tools and store them securely: to protect your tools specifically, marking them can help you be identified as the owner of the tools if they were stolen. And while it can be a faff, consider storing your tools in your house overnight - your home is a lot more secure than your van, even with the most advanced safety measures.
  • Keep a note of serial numbers and more information: information like serial numbers, or at least an itemised list with the make and model of everything taken, will help police identify your tools if they’re found and ease the process of making an insurance claim.
  • Look at tool insurance: if you don’t have tool insurance as part of your business insurance policy, consider adding it in. It can help pay for the cost of replacing your tools should they be stolen. You should also check your policy wording to find out exactly what’s covered, what the limits and excesses are, and if there are any conditions.

Image credit: Hampton Police

Do you think more should be done about keyless theft? Let us know in the comments below.

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Sam Bromley

Written by

Sam Bromley

Sam has more than 10 years of experience in writing for financial services. He specialises in illuminating complicated topics, from IR35 to ISAs, and identifying emerging trends that audiences want to know about. Sam spent five years at Simply Business, where he was Senior Copywriter.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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