Thieves now steal keyless cars in greater numbers via ‘relay theft’ which is the quick, silent, simple technique that does not cause any damage, the National Police Chiefs’ Council warned motorists. Between May and June 2021, vehicle crime increased 3.1% and the ‘bulk’ of the rise was blamed on relay theft.
How relay theft works
Note first that your car’s key transmits a signal. When the car receives this signal, it concludes that its key – and you its legitimate owner – are nearby. The car then lets you open its doors, start the engine and drive. The key can remain in your pocket throughout. It simply has to be fairly close to the vehicle.
Relay theft exploits this convenient system. A car is parked on your drive and its key is in your house, close to the front door. However, the key is too far from the vehicle for it to legitimately unlock. The key is out of range.
The criminal now stands close to your front door with a small, light, low cost device. The device captures a signal from your car’s key and is now ‘relayed’ to a second device the thief puts next to the car. The second device passes the signal to the vehicle, the car thinks its legitimate key is nearby so it can be unlocked, started, and driven. This process only takes a moment.
How to stop relay theft
Relay theft can be stopped easily. Simply block the signal from the car’s key by storing it in a faraday pouch, tin, or box. The criminal’s device cannot then capture its signal so your vehicle remains locked.
National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Vehicle Crime, Assistant Chief Constable Jenny Sims, said:
‘While the rapid development of technology has dramatically improved the experience of drivers, it has also allowed criminals to exploit weaknesses in electronic security. We are working closely with car manufacturers to help them design out crime by sharing intelligence and equipment seized from criminals. We are already making substantial progress in this regard’, she confirmed.
The Assistant Chief Constable also encouraged drivers to do more than use a faraday pouch. ‘Return to basics like making sure your car is locked is worthwhile, too. We know from research that some owners think that cars automatically lock. They do not. Always double check before you walk away that it is locked.'