RAC Cars News


Gone in Sixty Minutes...

By raccars Published

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Premium vehicles in the UK are being targeted by organised criminal gangs which, in some cases, have the car out of the country within an hour. Range Rovers, Audis and BMWs are some of the most desirable brands for the sophisticated thieves, but trucks and diggers have also been targets.

The gangs aim for wealthy homes where the prestige vehicles are easy to access on the driveway. Modern technology means that a key often isn't necessary, with thieves using computer equipment to hack into cars. These are then loaded onto shipping containers for export to shady clients in the US, Africa, Cyprus or the Far East. Sometimes it takes less than an hour, from the moment the car is stolen to the container ship setting sail.

Police launched an operation countrywide last month, which saw the recovery of 44 cars to a value of at least £1.2 million. The National Crime Agency and Border Force operation raided a number of containers in ports nationwide, to find vehicles reported as stolen from Hertfordshire, London, Northamptonshire, Surrey and even Germany and Holland. Some were hidden at the back of containers behind other consumer goods, such as clothes, or concealed behind cardboard sheets. One container was full of parts from broken up vehicles, including at least 29 BMWs.

Some of the recovered vehicles were owned by hire firms or finance companies which had unwittingly leased cars to fraudsters.

The criminal gangs prize the prestigious vehicles for their personal use as well as to resell abroad. The cars are sometimes also used as payment for consignments of drugs. Of the 90,000 vehicles reported stolen in the UK last year, a significant proportion were probably destined for export. Theft to order is also common, particularly four wheel drives, which can easily negotiate the poor roads in some foreign countries.

While thieves sometimes still steal keys to cars or forge documents to obtain vehicles fraudulently through hire or finance companies, using the vehicle's onboard computer to gain access by hacking is a problematic new trend. Gangs can easily programme new electronic keys or use a device that reads coding if they are nearby when the car's owner uses the key fob. The devices the thieves need can easily be bought online, while a quick internet search brings up video tutorials on how to use the equipment.

Police are advising owners to install tracking devices and use mechanical locks to the steering wheel, pedals and gear stick, to foil electronic theft.

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