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UK car theft hotspots revealed as keyless crime reaches record high

More cars were stolen and recovered in London than in any other region across 2020, latest data analysis from Tracker, has revealed.

The West Midlands and Greater Manchester have moved up the league table to second and third position respectively, ousting Essex from second to fourth position.

The analysis also reports another annual increase in keyless car thefts, now standing at an all-time high of 93%.

Other car crime hot spots within Tracker’s regional analysis include Kent, Surrey, and Hertfordshire, as well as Lancashire, South Yorkshire, and West Yorkshire. Hertfordshire and Lancashire join the top ten for the first time, while Herefordshire and Merseyside have dropped out.

RAC Insurance reported vehicle thefts rose to highest level in four years, as more than 150,000 cars, vans and motorcycles were reported as stolen in 2018-19.

Range Rover and Land Rover topped the league table for the most stolen and recovered vehicles across the UK, with the three top spots occupied by Range Rover models – the Sport followed by the Vogue and the Autobiography.

A £120,000 Range Rover Autobiography was stolen from a supermarket carpark in Walthamstow, London, in just 80 seconds by thieves taking advantage of weaknesses in the keyless entry system.

The Land Rover Discovery, Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Defender also make the top ten. These six models alone account for 37% of all stolen cars recovered by Tracker in 2020.

Clive Wain, head of Police Liaison for Tracker, said: “It is no surprise that London was the busiest region for vehicle thefts and recoveries in 2020 – it always is. The area accounts for as many recoveries as the next seven regions in our top ten, combined. Nor is it a surprise to see Range Rover and Land Rover dominating our UK hot spots.

“However, yet another annual increase in the number of cars being stolen by thieves exploiting keyless car technology should ring alarm bells for everyone, regardless of the make and model they drive.

“Thieves use sophisticated equipment to exploit keyless technology by hijacking the car key’s signal, typically from the security of the owner’s home, and remotely fooling the system into unlocking the doors and starting the engine.

“This is commonly known as a “relay attack” and accounted for 93% of all our recorded thefts in 2020. This nudged up from 92% in 2019 but represents a shocking 27% increase in the last 5 years.”

Ford bolsters vehicle security

To help prevent vehicle theft, Ford has increased the number of models with security technology which disables keyless entry fobs when not in use to block illegal hacking.

The average fleet loses around £16,000 per year as a result of vehicle or equipment theft, according to Verizon Connect.

A motion sensor inside Ford’s fobs detects when it has been stationary for longer than 40 seconds and triggers a sleep mode, which will not respond to attempts to hack its signal via a “relay box” or through the misuse of other specialist equipment.

Moving the keyless fob by picking it up inside the home and taking it to the car will restore full functionality by the time drivers approach their cars. Ford fobs are designed to operate only within a two-metre radius of the cars they are bonded to.

The feature has been added as standard to the Ford Puma as well as the Ford Kuga. The Ford Mustang-E electric vehicle (EV) will also feature the technology.

Ford said all production of the Ford Puma, which went on sale at the start of 2020, includes the motion-sensor key fobs. Ford Kuga production added the deterrent in July 2020.

The fob was introduced to Ford’s Fiesta and Focus in 2019. Figures from security analysts Retainagroup show that the number of thefts of the latest Fiesta have fallen by two-thirds compared with the number of previous Fiestas stolen.

  Latest Fiesta 2018-2020 Previous Fiesta 2009-2017
Total sold 223,600 1,026,000
Number of thefts (2020) 231 3,152
Thefts per 1,000 1.03 3.06

Simon Hurr, Ford security specialist, said: “The online availability of devices, which have no place in public hands, has long been a problem for Ford, our industry and crime fighters.  We are pleased to extend our simple but effective solution, to help protect more owners of our most popular cars.”

Although lockdown measures in Spring of 2020 saw an overall reduction in general crime figures, Tracker said it saw vehicle theft increase once restrictions were lifted.

Wain said: “Our July stolen recovery figures were up 50% compared to April and May, so car owners need to be extra vigilant as we move out of lockdown in the coming months.

“We always encourage drivers to use traditional visual deterrents such as crook locks and wheel clamps to frighten off criminals and protect their car.

“However, in the event of a theft, stolen vehicle tracking technology will significantly help police quickly close the net on thieves and return the vehicle to its rightful owner.”

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