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CCTV captures latest keyless theft in car crime 'epidemic'

  • Watch Emma Wilkinson's report:

A woman from Berkshire has joined a growing number of people falling victim to keyless car theft - where criminals use electronic devices to steal certain cars without needing the key.

CCTV captured two thieves taking Madeleine Monaghan's BMW from her drive as the family slept upstairs. It took less than a minute.

Madeleine says she's been inundated with messages from people who've had similar experiences. Credit: ITV Meridian

We had no idea this could happen and if we had known, it probably would have affected which car we bought. We were horrified by how quickly it could happen - even if we had woken up, we never would have got down in time to stop them.

People need to be aware of this, so they can take extra precautions to protect their cars. We have now bought a faraday key pouch which blocks the signal from the key and I would advise anybody who has taken out finance to buy a car to consider gap insurance so you're not left massively out of pocket.

– Madeleine Monaghan

The thefts involve cars with keyless entry and start technology - which is designed to increase convenience for motorists, with a small fob to unlock vehicles without pressing a button and an ignition button to drive. But criminals are exploiting vulnerabilities in the system.

Thieves use relatively simple technology to exploit the keyless entry and start system

They use a relay amplifier and a relay transmitter, often built from scratch or bought off the dark net. One criminal stands by the car with a transmitter, while a second waves the amplifier around the perimeter of the house. If the car key is close enough, the amplifier will detect its signal, amplify it and send it to the accomplice’s transmitter. This tricks the car into thinking the real key is nearby and allows it to be opened, started and driven away.

Some experts say the problem has reached epidemic proportions in certain areas and is contributing to an overall rise in car thefts, after decades of decline.

In 1992, for example, around 600,000 cars were stolen. By 2016, that had dropped to around 57,000 but the following year saw a 56% rise to around 89,000. Thefts have risen by a further 7% in the last 12 months.

It's prompted the government to set up a new taskforce of experts from different sectors.

Richard Billyeald from Thatcham Research was among those present at its first meeting. He is the Chief Technical Officer at the research centre, which carries out tests on cars for safety, security and repairability.

He said: "Thieves unfortunately can be quite resourceful so manufacturers have to react but it can take time for new technology to be developed and rolled out.

"There is now some technology starting to emerge, such as keys that essentially go to sleep and don't give out a signal unless they are moving.

"But we also have to address how exactly criminals are making money out of stealing cars, and work out ways to disrupt criminal networks which are increasingly organised."

It is thought many of the high-value cars stolen are shipped abroad or stripped down for parts.

The taskforce, which will meet every six months, aims to replicate the successful model used to reduce moped-related crime in London.

Madeleine will now get her car back, after her husband tracked it down.

Madeleine welcomes a stronger approach to this kind of crime, as she has been frustrated by the investigation carried out by her local force.

Her car has a tracking system and she says she was told by Thames Valley Police that they had managed to track her car, only to be told later that they had not. She says by piecing together information gleaned from officers, her husband was able to find the car himself in London.

In a statement, Thames Valley Police said:

"Thames Valley Police was called at 5.50am on Tuesday (15/1) following the theft of a vehicle from Wellington Road.

"The investigation is ongoing and anyone with information is asked to contact our non-emergency number 101 or make a report online quoting reference 43190014431.

"No arrests have been made."