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Car Thefts and the rise of keyless car crime – check your policy cover!

Jun 18, 2019

Motor theft insurance claim payouts have hit their highest level in seven years according to The Association of British Insurers. The cost of claims has also risen, with the ABI saying that in total insurers paid out £108m in the first three months of this year – up by over a fifth on the same period last year. Home Office figures support this view with car theft having risen by 50% over the past five years.

These are the main factors creating a growing problem:

• Keyless car crime – some new car models are vulnerable (Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Golf, Nissan Qashqai, and Ford Focus )
• Availability of cheap online relay devices – as low as £40
• Higher costs of repairing technically advanced car designs.
• Criminal demand for spare parts as prices and availability have risen

How does Keyless Car Theft work?

Thieves, normally working in pairs, will target a car parked outside a house. A ‘relay attack’ takes place which is essentially criminals tricking cars into believing they have the key fob, which is usually still inside the victim’s home. One stands close to the car while the other stands near the home and, using inexpensive relay devices purchased online, they can extend the range of the radio signal to fool the car into thinking the real key is within range.

Just like that, they can unlock your car and drive away – without smashing a window or forcing a lock. Here lies another problem – can I claim for this? Most insurers will have a clause on policies that state that a theft has to have been as a result of violent and forcible entry. This is to avoid fraud or simply leaving the car keys in the car, which would make the theft being the result of a failure of “duty of care “. Think back to vehicles being stolen off garage forecourts or in car parks whilst the owner has left the vehicle.

Most insurers have been reluctant to change policy wordings to explicitly include keyless car theft. Insurers are often slow to respond to real life events – little evidence of fast moving activity here also! There have been a couple of test cases that have gone against the claimant. However, there is a growing acceptance that the use of “electronic force” is real and the theft of a vehicle will be compensated for subject to reporting the claim to the police and having a crime reference number.

How might you avoid a keyless car theft?

Here are seven tips on how to avoid keyless car thefts at home:

1. Keep keys inside a closed drawer and away from windows and doors.
2. Buy or make a bag or container which acts as a Faraday cage. This will help block a key’s signal from being transmitted to a relay device  and are widely available.
3. Check your vehicle manual in case it is possible to temporarily turn off the key’s wireless signal.
4. A steering wheel lock or car alarm/immobiliser would not go amiss.
5. Make your driveway as secure as possible. Consider installing a bollard or lockable gates to prevent the car being driven off while you sleep.
6. Deter crooks by fitting CCTV cameras to the outside of your home. Keeping the inside of your car tidy and removing signs of expensive equipment such as mobile phone chargers will also make your vehicle less of a target.
7. Add a tracking device to your car so it can be recovered in the event it is stolen.

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