Car theft has reached epidemic proportions in the UK and it is being fuelled by social media.

Thieves are using WhatsApp groups to plan and execute car thefts as the crime wave continues, reveals vehicle protection specialists at AX.

Established 10 years ago, AX is staffed by former Police officers and forensic data analysts.

Criminals draw up and share ‘shopping lists’ of makes and models so that vehicles can be stolen to order, says the provider of intelligent vehicle protection and management technologies.

Fuelled by encrypted social media platforms, the wave of thefts has been intensified by the vulnerability of ‘keyless’ car entry systems that criminals are able to exploit using key signal amplifiers and decoders costing thousands.

Home Office figures show the number of vehicles stolen in Britain has almost doubled in the last five years.

In 2017-18, nearly 112,000 cars were taken illegally, up from 75,308 in the 2013-14 financial year.

AX’s Director of Investigative Services, Neil Thomas, explains the new tactics used by today’s car thieves.

“The highly organised criminal networks are constantly looking for more secure ways to carry on their ‘businesses’ online and use social media with encrypted messaging capabilities or even online games to covertly communicate with each other” he said.

“The sheer volume of thefts is practically a car theft epidemic and is enabling criminals to purchase costly technology which then fuels even more car crime.”

Typically, criminals – or whole gangs in some cases – mobilise on social media where they agree their preferred targets, pricing and buyer before preparing bogus number-plates from similar vehicles to rapidly clone vehicles.

Thomas said the thieves who take the initial risk get cash payment, then the buyer who now has a tracker-free car, can take their time to strip it, clone it or export it.

“This is where the profit is, especially in terms of the parts which can amount to much more than the complete vehicle,” he said.

“We’ve been highly successful in recovering vehicles for our clients. However, it is usually only possible if they can be traced and this requires specific technology as well as the instinct of experienced professionals.”

What can car owners do to to protect their precious cars?

Well, the “Crook Lock” could be set to make a meteoric comeback.

“We always suggest parking in well-lit areas and would now recommend old-fashioned steering wheels locks, as well as considering covert devices to protect their vehicle,” he said.

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Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.
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