A new, sophisticated and silent way to steal ‘keyless’ cars in just 60 seconds is fuelling a huge rise in thefts in The UK. This was first reported in the Greater Manchester area but is thought to now be affecting towns and cities the length and breadth of the country.The method involves using two relatively cheap devices to ‘trick’ a vehicle into thinking its entry fob is nearby and is already suspected of contributing to a 44 per cent increase in car theft in the Manchester region in recent years which is twice the national average. It is expected to contribute to an increase of car thefts nationwide.

Criminals use the new high-tech ‘hack’ to break into vehicles without even touching them. Manufacturers are tweaking their technology, but it’s a game of cat and mouse. Police are warning drivers to be aware of the worrying trend, and say one of the best ways drivers can protect their vehicles is by using an old fashioned crook lock.

‘Transmitter relay’ attacks target cars with keyless entry systems.The technology was once the preserve of high-end motors, but more affordable family cars now have automatic fob systems, which allow drivers to open and start their vehicles without even touching a button. Thieves, often linked to organised crime, first buy a relay amplifier and transmitter, which are easily available on the internet, often for a couple of hundred pounds.

One criminal then stands by the car with the transmitter, while a second waves the amplifier near the house the car is parked outside. If the car’s fob is close enough, the amplifier will detect its signal, even through doors, walls and windows, amplify it, and send it to the accomplice’s transmitter. The transmitter then effectively becomes the key, ‘tricking’ the car into thinking the real key is nearby. The thieves are able to open the car, push the start button and drive away. Vehicles can be taken in under a minute one minute.

Keyless entry cars allow drivers to open and start the vehicle without touching their fob – or even removing it from their pocket.

Tests by the ADAC – the German equivalent of the AA – ‘tricked’ keyless sensor technology into thinking the owner was nearby with a fob and vehicles from nearly 30 manufacturers were unlocked. Dozens of different models were ‘hacked’ using this method.

Latest figures, released by 40 police forces following Freedom of Information requests by RAC, showed 85,688 vehicles were stolen in 2016 in the UK – up 30pc from 65,783 in 2013. Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer at Thatcham Research, experts in vehicle safety and security, said, “Keyless entry systems on cars offer convenience to drivers, but can in some situations be exploited by criminals.

“Concerned drivers should contact their dealer for information and guidance, and follow our simple security steps.

“We are working closely with the police and vehicle manufacturers to address this vulnerability, continuing our approach that has driven vehicle crime down 80pc from its peak in 1992.”

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