New tactic used by criminals to steal keyless cars in South Africa

 ·3 Nov 2022

Vehicle tracking company Tracker has warned motorists to be on alert for a new tactic being used by criminals to bypass newer technologies and gain access to keyless vehicles in South Africa.

Tracker’s latest Vehicle Crime Index covering the period January to June 2022 reveals that incident volumes have increased to pre-Covid lockdown levels across the country.

Vehicle theft is up 7% nationally by volume, with hijackings up 4% over the previous review period, Tracker said.

“The elevation can partly be attributed to increased vehicle usage following a return to work and more numerous social occasions, as well as new modus operandi on the part of criminals and crime syndicates, such as keyless access theft,” the group said.

Duma Ngcobo, Chief Operations Officer at Tracker, said that new technologies like keyless entry and activation could provide convenience for motorists, but keyless access theft also highlights how criminals are turning to tech to make car theft easier.

How it works

The keyless access tactic involves a pair or team of criminals, one of whom could follow a newer model vehicle owner as they walk away from a locked vehicle.

Using a relay amplifier, a criminal can amplify the constantly transmitted signal received from the vehicle’s key fob to a criminal counterpart’s relay transmitter.

The criminal counterpart can then gain access to the vehicle via the transmitter and drive away with it.

How to mitigate the tactic

Tracker said that motorists should be proactive and take steps to avoid becoming a victim. To combat keyless vehicle theft in particular, the group suggested using Faraday pouches (also known as a fob guard) to store your key fob.

“Lined with layers of metallic material, this pouch helps block key fob signals, thereby preventing criminals from intercepting the signal,” it said.

Other proactive measures to combat this new MO include:

  • If the front of your home and your vehicle are easily accessible, for instance, in high-density or cluster-style living environments, try to store your key fob as far away from the access point and your car’s location as possible, to minimise the possibility of amplifying the key fob signal and allowing criminals to access your vehicle.
  • If your car does not park securely behind a locked gate or in a garage when parked at home, try to park a car requiring a key behind your keyless car to ensure it cannot be driven away without increased effort.
  • You could also consider deactivating the keyless entry function.
  • Ensure that your doors are locked before walking away from your parked car. For cars requiring key entry, always double-check by lifting the handle once you have locked the doors – remote jamming as a modus operandi continues to gain popularity in criminal circles.
  • When parking, choose a well-lit area and, if possible, an area with cameras monitoring the parking area and pedestrian activity around your vehicle.
  • Use a steering wheel lock. Although they are considered ‘old-school’, they can be effective as a visual deterrent.
  • Install an immobiliser. While many cars have factory-fitted immobilisers, there is merit in having an additional system installed. As an extra bonus, your car insurance premium could possibly be reduced because of the additional deterrent.
  • Install CCTV to watch over your car when parked in your driveway, and add a motion detector light. Both can act as a deterrent and provide additional peace of mind.
  • Consider installing or upgrading your vehicle tracking system to an option offering both theft retrieval and early notification of unauthorised movement to ensure vehicle recovery protocols can be initiated immediately following a theft.

With more vehicles on the road now than during Covid’s restrictions, the indication is one of greater theft opportunities for criminals.

“As criminals and syndicates vary their methods and use technology to gain access to cars, Tracker encourages all South Africans to adopt proactive behaviours that could help mitigate vehicle theft. Sometimes it is the most simple of behaviours that can make all the difference in ensuring that you remain a step ahead,” said Ngcobo.

Read: Hijacking is on the rise in South Africa – these are the cars that criminals are after

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