Almost all drivers risk having cars stolen by criminals using high-tech theft devices: Here are the simple steps to stop it happening to you
- Most drivers keep keys where they can be hacked by criminals
- Car security firm says two thirds of car thefts involved 'relay' attacks
- Keys can even be kept in the fridge to stop the signal being copied
Where do you keep your car keys overnight? In a drawer? On a hook near the front door? Next to your bed?
If the answer is any of the three above, you're one of 96 per cent of motorists that are vulnerable to car thieves using high-tech gadgets to steal vehicles in a matter of minutes.
Car security firm Tracker said these sort of thefts accounted for 66 per cent of all stolen vehicles it investigated last year - and there's simple ways to stop it happening to you.
The type of theft is called a 'relay attack', when two thieves work together to break into cars using electronic signal relay devices to infiltrate keyless entry systems.
Recent CCTV footage released by West Midlands Police of a theft of a Mercedes-Benz confirmed just how easily criminals can use these gadgets to receive the car key signal from inside a victim's home, transferring that signal to a receiver near the vehicle.
The car's system is tricked into thinking the key is there, allowing thieves to unlock it and drive away within minutes.
While this might sound like a specialist method only used by gangs stealing high-end cars to order, an investigation by the Mail on Sunday earlier this year found that anyone can buy the relay devices on Amazon and eBay for £257.
It even replicated a YouTube video that showcased how to use the gadget - called 'HackRF One' - to break into a top-of-the-range £105,000 Range Rover Vogue SE in two minutes, with the permission of the vehicle's owner.
It means drivers are extremely vulnerable to the attacks - and almost every car owner is putting themselves at risk by leaving their keys somewhere that the devices can easily tap into the signal they produce.
Tracker asked 200 motorists where they put their keys overnight, with a quarter saying they leave them in the hallway - well within easy reach of these relay devices that can pick-up a signal up to 30-metres away.
The next most popular place drivers leave keys is on a dedicated hook or in a pot, which tends to be near the front door, followed by a drawer downstairs and in the bedroom - all within easy reach of relay gadgets.
Andy Barrs, head of police liaison at Tracker, said there are some simple precautions people can take to stop criminals from being able to tap into keys, though they might take some ingenious thinking.
He said: 'Whilst the relay devices can receive signals through walls, doors and windows, metal is its enemy, so putting keys in a metal tin or the microwave is a cost effective way to thwart the criminals.'
Experts have also suggested you can keep your keys in the fridge to keep your car safe from being hacked.
Andy adds: 'Alternatively, invest in a metallised signal blocking pouch, such as a Faraday wallet (£4.99 on Amazon), which is designed to shield electronic keys from relay attacks.'
Barrs said car owners should also consider security solutions from the past as well as new tracking devices to keep their vehicles secure.
'It's also worth remembering that vehicle security should be multi-layered and shouldn't just rely on the keyless security system,' he added.
'Physical barriers, such as crook locks and wheel clamps will deter thieves.
'And whilst investing in a tracking device won't stop a car being stolen, it can significantly increase the chances of police locating it and returning it to the rightful owner.
'This, plus added vigilance, dramatically contributes to keeping thieves at bay.'
Lorna Connelly, head of claims at Admiral said: 'Unfortunately, we do see a claims from customers who have had their cars stolen due to relay theft and it's a problem that we would advise motorists with keyless cars to be aware of.
'Despite progresses in anti-theft technology, thieves are always coming up with new ways to make off with your vehicle.
'We are urging all of our customers to keep their keys a safe distance from the door and consider storing them in a metal box. While this may seem like an extreme solution, relay theft is an extreme practice.'
In 2016, the German Automotive Club tested relay devices on 24 different cars made between 2013 and 2015 from 19 manufacturers including BMW, VW, Toyota and Ford.
They said they were able to open every car within seconds using the device that could be built out of every-day electronic items.
CARS VULNERABLE TO RELAY THEFT
Audi: A3, A4, A6
Citroen: DS4 CrossBack
Ford: Galaxy, Eco-Sport
Hyundai: Santa Fe CRDi
Lexus: RX 450h
Nissan: Qashqai, Leaf
Range Rover: Evoque
Ssangyong: Tivoli XDi
Volkswagen: Golf GTD, Touran 5T
Source: This is Money