Drivers urged to protect vehicles against keyless theft

03 February 2015

Officers in Hounslow advising drivers on vehicle security

Police officers are out in force urging drivers to “protect their vehicle like they would their home”, in a week of coordinated activity to tackle keyless vehicle theft, launched today, Tuesday, 3 February.

The campaign, codenamed Operation Endeavour, follows an 8% increase in vehicle theft across London in the last year, believed to be the result of organised criminals increasingly targeting keyless or remotely controlled vehicles to make money quickly.

"if you value your vehicle, it's worth investing time and money on extra security"

Despite the eight percent rise in motor vehicle theft, official statistics released last month show there has been a 3.2% reduction in crime in London overall. Most significantly, robbery is down 25 per cent, thefts from person are down 11% and burglaries remain at the lowest level since 1974. The MPS is committed to ensuring that we see similar decreases in theft of motor vehicles in this year, ultimately aiming for a 20% reduction by 2016.

Neighbourhood policing teams in every borough this week will be holding crime prevention events, targeted patrols and will be leafleting in hot-spot areas, to raise awareness amongst drivers.

In some boroughs, officers will be setting up check-and-advise points, where they can stop vehicles to check that they are being driven by the legitimate drivers, and provide owners with advice on protecting their vehicle.

The advice includes:

  • Use a steering wheel lock or a gear stick lock.
  • Consider getting an on-board diagnostics lock (OBD) professionally fitted.
  • Park your vehicle in a well-lit area, a garage, a staffed car park or in an area covered by CCTV.
  • Double-check the vehicle is locked when leaving it even for a moment.
  • Consider purchasing a tracking device to increase the chances of the vehicle being traced if it is stolen.

There will also be coordinated operational activity across London and into the home counties by local policing teams, the MPS’ central Organised Vehicle Crime Unit (OVCU), the London Crime Squad and Automatic Number Plate Recognition Bureau. The Territorial Support Group will also be continuing operations to arrest wanted vehicle thieves.

Last year, over 6,000 cars and vans across London were stolen without the owners’ keys.

That is an average of 17 vehicles a day, and represents 42% of all thefts of cars and vans.

The majority of such thefts appear to be the result of organised criminals using key-programming devices to create duplicate keys for vehicles, but it can include towing vehicles away.

Thieves use a device which bypasses the vehicle’s electronic information as the owner locks it, or they break into the vehicle and connect a device to the OBD port, downloading the vehicle’s information onto a blank key in a matter of seconds. The new key is then compatible with the vehicle, so it disables the alarm and the vehicle can simply be driven away.

The vehicles are targeted based on the desirability of their parts and range from prestige cars to vans. In fact, the two types of vehicle most stolen using this method in 2014 were vans.

Vehicles are stolen without the keys throughout the day, every day and intelligence suggests that this peaks between 2200hrs and 0400hrs, when it is dark, Sundays to Thursdays. The criminals then drive the vehicles into the home counties, where most are stripped down into their component parts and then shipped abroad. They are sold on as far afield as Africa, where particular types of vehicle are in high demand.

The OVCU is working with the motoring industry to keep designing out the crime as it continually evolves.

Det Ch Supt Carl Bussey, lead for Operation Endeavour said: “This week is about creating awareness amongst drivers and showing them how quickly and simply they can reduce the risk of their vehicles being stolen.

We believe that organised crime groups using this technique are responsible for the theft of thousands of vehicles in London. Many of those that we have already arrested in connection with keyless vehicle theft have previous links to other types of serious crime.

These people currently view keyless vehicle theft as a low-risk, high-return crime, with the most valued motor engines fetching anything up to £1,000 when sold on the black market, and entire vehicles making up to £10,000. This is money that goes into committing more crime; harming the communities that we live in and the people that we know.

Last year alone we arrested almost 1,000 people for vehicle theft, and with more coordinated activity we aim to reduce vehicle theft by 20% by 2016.

Prevention is an invaluable tool in the fight against crime. We’re working with the motoring industry to design out the crime, and we’re asking owners to take steps to protect their vehicle like their do their home. Steering wheel locks, immobilisers and tactics like parking in well-lit areas are the motoring equivalents of home security. Those owners who take these steps are less like to become victims of vehicle theft.

We know that criminals are targeting all sorts of vehicles - not just the most expensive - so if you value your vehicle, then it is worth investing time and money on extra security.”

Mike Hawes, Chief Executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Limited said: "Vehicle manufacturers invest billions of pounds to keep vehicles as secure as possible, and work tirelessly to stay one step ahead of criminals. As a result, overall thefts in the UK have decreased by more than 75% over the past 10 years and continue to fall.

The challenge remains that some forms of keyless theft involve equipment legitimately available to workshops for routine repairs and servicing, and a small minority of individuals are exploiting this to access vehicles illegally. SMMT and vehicle manufacturers continue to call for stronger safeguards within government regulations to ensure this equipment does not fall into the wrong hands. The law must also provide severe penalties to act as a deterrent."

 Vehicles owners can find information and advice about keyless vehicle theft on the new MPS website