Police Tackle 'Keyless' Car Thefts In Wandsworth

Awareness campaign urges owners to take extra precautions

As police launch an awareness campaign to tackle the incidence of 'keyless' vehicle thefts, local police report 178 such thefts in Wandsworth in 2014.

Last year more than 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 per cent of all thefts of cars and vans.

Police officers are now urging drivers to "protect their vehicle like they would their home". The campaign, codenamed Operation Endeavour, follows an eight per cent 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.

The advice includes:

* Using a steering wheel lock or a gear stick lock

* Consider getting an on-board diagnostics lock (OBD) professionally fitted

* Parking your vehicle in a well-lit area, a garage, a staffed car park or in an area covered by CCTV

* Double-checking 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

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.

Intelligence suggests that the criminals 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.

Detective Chief Superintendent Carl Bussey, lead for Operation Endeavour, said: "This 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 back into committing more crime and harming the communities that we live.

"Last year alone we arrested almost 1,000 people for vehicle theft, and with more co-ordinated activity we aim to reduce vehicle theft by 20 per cent by 2016.

"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 (SMMT), 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 per cent over the past ten years and continues 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 web site.

February 11, 2015