Company car drivers and fleet managers are being warned that criminals are using WhatsApp groups to plan and execute car thefts, according to vehicle protection specialists at AX.
According to the report, criminals create and share ‘shopping lists’ of makes and models so that vehicles can be stolen to order. AX, a provider of intelligent vehicle protection and management technologies for the automotive and insurance industries, says that “fuelled by encrypted social media platforms, the wave of thefts has been intensified by the vulnerability of ‘keyless’ systems which criminals are able to exploit using key signal amplifiers and decoders costing thousands”.
Home Office figures show the number of vehicles stolen in Britain has almost doubled in the last five years. In 2017-18, nearly 112,000 cars were taken illegally, up from 75,308 in the 2013-14 financial year.
Neil Thomas, AX director of investigative services, said: “The highly organised criminal networks are constantly looking for more secure ways to carry on their ‘businesses’ online and use social media with encrypted messaging capabilities or even online games to covertly communicate with each other.
“The sheer volume of thefts is practically a car theft epidemic and is enabling criminals to purchase costly technology which then fuels even more car crime.
“The thieves who take the initial risk get the cash payment, then the buyer, who now has a tracker-free car can then take their time to strip it, clone it or export it. This is where the profit is, especially in terms of the parts which can amount to much more than the complete vehicle."
AX states that typically, criminals – or whole gangs in some cases – mobilise on social media where they agree their preferred targets, pricing and buyer before preparing bogus number-plates from similar vehicles to rapidly clone vehicles.