Keyless cars were initially developed in 1995 by Siemens for the motor trade, to be installed in Mercedes-Benz vehicles. They’ve come a long way since then, but so has the technology used by criminals to steal them. The older the car, the more vulnerable, but there are ways to help prevent this ever-increasing crime. A keyless new or used car can be broken into and driven away in a matter of seconds, so taking precautions is essential. The convenience of keyless entry and start goes without saying, but to thieves, it is just a different sort of challenge. They are now using a relay car hack to break into vehicles easily, quickly and without causing damage.
What can we do to avoid it?
During 2017 in England and Wales alone, approximately 89,000 cars were stolen, many of which involved high-tech crime. By using a sophisticated device, criminals can make the car believe that its fob is close by. A simple solution is to wrap the fob in tin foil to block the signal from the thieves’ transmitters, which will help to prevent this type of car hacking. However, this cannot be a long-term solution, nor does it guarantee against theft, as the foil can easily get torn or removed. There are key signal blockers available on many internet sites, although it’s always a good idea to check the most suitable for your model of car before purchase.
A blocker can also help with your insurance policy, so it’s worth looking into and asking about.
How the scam works
Known as a ‘relay attack’, police describe keyless car theft as an epidemic. The motor trade is aware of the problem and should be able to advise you on security measures when you purchase the car.
The scam works by sending a signal to a nearby fob telling it to unlock the car door: the fob can be sitting in the hallway of your house or close to a window, so think carefully about where you leave it overnight. There will be two criminals working together, one standing close to the vehicle and the other by the house. Both will have an electronic signal relay device, the one that’s closest to the house and the key fob, will send a signal to the other device by the ‘car’ telling it that the fob is present and to unlock the door. The thieves will then either steal the contents, or the actual car itself in just a few seconds.
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Stop them dead
Although the electronic signal can pass through walls, windows and doors, it cannot pass through metal. Be sure to store your keys in either a metal container or a special signal blocking pouch, such as a Faraday bag, or even a microwave oven. If you choose a Faraday bag, check that it works, as some block only certain signals and might not be suitable for your car.
Also, check your insurance policy as it may contain a covering clause, which, if not adhered to, could invalidate your insurance. Another solution is to buy a steering wheel lock which will visually make your car less attractive to criminals. Many new cars include immobilisers and encrypted key codes, however, as both new and used cars are vulnerable, prevention is better than cure.