The high-tech devices keyless car crooks use to steal motors including ‘Game Boys’ – and how to stop them

 MODERN cars packed with advanced technology are faster, cleaner, quieter and comfier than ever before - but they’re also easier to nick. 

Because while the latest keyless entry systems and push-button ignitions are convenient for the honest motorist, they’re also very handy for crooks.

Criminals are prowling driveways with their equipment
Criminals are prowling driveways with their equipmentCredit: West Yorkshire Police
The 'Game Boy' device was recovered by Yorkshire cops after being used in thefts
The 'Game Boy' device was recovered by Yorkshire cops after being used in theftsCredit: West Yorkshire Police

What is keyless car theft?

Many modern cars have key fobs that allow you to open the car remotely, and start the engine without turning a key in the ignition.

If you have the key in your pocket, you can walk up to the car, get in and drive off without touching the key, or turning any old-fashioned locks.

Keyless car theft involves criminals - sometimes working in teams - using a gadgets that pretend to be your car’s key, in order to gain access and even start the car. 

It’s like using a skeleton key. Unlike your own fob, the thief’s hardware opens more than just one vehicle. 

With these special computers in their pocket, even the most low-tech criminal can gain access to the latest cars - often worth over £100,000.

It’s easier and quicker than using a coat hanger to steal an old Ford Escort - and more lucrative too. 

How does keyless car theft work?

There are several different ways for criminals to steal your car using keyless technology, but the most common is the relay attack

Clever kit amplifies the signal from between the car and its key, tricking the computer into thinking the key is closer than it is. 

By taking the signal from the key and making it more powerful, the car “thinks” that the key is right next to it, unlocking the doors and starting the engine. 

Normally working in pairs, one thief will stand next to the car with a gadget, then another will prowl the perimeter of the house with another, trying to connect to the weak signal from any keys inside. 

If a connection is made between the devices then the car can be opened, started and driven away in just ten seconds

The devices are small, sometimes resembling hand-held gaming devices. 

Police in Yorkshire recently recovered one such gadget disguised as a Game Boy. 

It had been used by a gang to steal Mitsubishi Outlander vehicles, modern SUVs favoured by families.

Police say the device is worth £20,000. It is one of many different types of gadget on the market, some used by legitimate mechanics as well as car thieves to gain access to locked vehicles.

The AA has called on the Home Office to ban sales of these devices, as car crime soars.

Some of these devices are available to buy online.

How can I prevent keyless car theft and relay attacks?

Keyless car theft is on the rise, with police forces all over the country reporting instances of this type of crime. 

And car manufacturers are working to redesign the security systems in their cars in order to address the changing trends in car crime.

But there are things that motorists can try in order to protect their cars against criminals.

The first and most obvious is what experts call “multi-layered security”. In short, this means old-fashioned physical protection like steering wheel locks and wheel clamps. 

Someone who gains access to your car will not be able to drive it away if the steering wheel is locked - even if they manage to start the engine. 

The same is true of any physical vehicle immobilisation product. 

But you can prevent a relay attack from happening in the first place by being careful with your car key. 

Keeping it away from windows and doors can make it harder for criminals to amplify its signal if they’re outside your home. 

Placing car keys in a metal box or Faraday cage - a special signal-blocking structure that can protect credit cards, keys and gadgets from prying high-tech criminals - makes it even less likely that thieves will connect to the car key. 

Keeping your key fob in a Faraday cage, also known as a Faraday sleeve, while you’re at work or home should ensure that thieves leave your driveway frustrated. 

And adding a highly visible, physical steering wheel lock to your car means that they might not even try at all. 

The modified devices bear resemblance to an old-fashioned games console
The modified devices bear resemblance to an old-fashioned games consoleCredit: SOS AUutoKEys
A range of devices are available to block, intercept and amplify security tech signals
A range of devices are available to block, intercept and amplify security tech signalsCredit: Louis Wood - The Sun
Car thieves steal Mitsubishi Outlanders in seconds using tiny gadget

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