The crimewave could lead to a complete rethink of anti-theft measures for fleets, as the phones can even detect laptops left in car boots.
Most modern mobile phones are Bluetooth-enabled, which allows the user to communicate with other compatible devices including mobile phones, laptops and Personal Data Assistants (PDA). The technology works by scanning the immediate area for other Bluetooth devices. If there is one hidden in a vehicle and the battery is active, it will be picked up on the thief’s phone.
A number of cars have been targeted in the Cambridgeshire area by crooks using the technique to track down electronic equipment and only breaking into cars they know will pay off.
In one incident alone, eight laptops were stolen from cars left in a hotel car park while their owners were in a conference, even though all the computers were locked in the boots of cars.
PC Richard Carter, from the Community Safety Unit at Cambridgeshire Constabulary, said drivers should take measures to foil the hi-tech villains.
He said: ‘Drivers should switch off the laptop and Bluetooth before putting it in the boot.
‘If laptops are being left regularly, buy an in-vehicle secure system which fits into the boot and doubles security.Lock the vehicle according to the manufacturer’s instructions and if the item is particularly valuable drivers should take it with them.’
Figures from the British Crime Survey estimate that last year about 100,000 laptops were stolen from vehicles, which equates to more than 270 laptops per day. Laptop theft accounts for 6.2% of all vehicle insurance claims.
Autosafe, a company which manufactures in-vehicle security safes for laptops, says many break-ins involve theft of computer equipment.
A spokesman from the group said: ‘Police information suggests criminals stealing laptops are very organised, booking into hotels, monitoring the comings and goings of business workers and understanding when and where companies have conferences.’
A police spokesman said it was common for company car drivers to leave their laptops on standby in the boot of their car while they left the car briefly. But thieves needed only a few seconds.