The Rise in Relay Theft and What You Need to Know

Car fob relay theft

We’re always trying to stay on top of the latest innovations and news stories here at Lockout247. One of the big issues that we’ve come across more and more in recent years talking to people around is relay car theft.

While technology has made huge advances, criminals are often one step ahead and that’s the case when it comes to tricking your brand-new car’s electronic system into opening and starting. This is a type of theft that is on the increase and affects mostly new vehicles that are fob operated.

What is Relay Theft?

Relay theft is a type of car theft that involves using a special device to trick the car’s keyless entry system into thinking that the key is present. Once the car is unlocked, the thieves can then start it up and drive away.

To carry out a relay theft, the thieves will first need to identify a vulnerable car. They will then use a device which resembles a metal hoop to amplify the signal from the keyless entry fob which may be sitting somewhere like the hallway table or in your jacket pocket. This amplified signal is then sent to the car where there is a relay box, which tricks the car into thinking that you are trying to open the door. The whole process can take just a few seconds.

How Common Is It?

According to insurers, drivers with keyless entry for their cars are twice as likely to make a claim for theft than other owners. Between 2019 and 2020, keyless car theft rose from 13% to 36% and is still on the increase. Some of the most common vehicles that are stolen using this method include BMWs, Audis and Mercedes.

Just a few days ago, the BBC highlighted a story of a mum who got up to feed her baby in the middle of the night, unaware that her car was being stolen. The technique they used was revealed on her CCTV after she discovered the theft and called the police. In the early hours, a man approaches her house with something she describes as a ‘broken hula hoop’. He waves it around as another man uses a relay box to open the car. The whole process takes less than a minute. Hers was one of nine cars that were stolen in the area during this particular night.

Car thieves tend to go for high-value models, in this case, it was a Mercedes. One of the benefits is that the thieves don’t have to try to steal the fob or break into a home to get it, putting them at less risk. They just have to get close enough to the fob to amplify its signal.

What Are Manufacturers Doing?

Which? contacted several manufacturers to see what they were doing about combatting relay thefts around 2019 and found that they weren’t taking it seriously enough. Some were working on ‘fixes’ but others either wouldn’t give details or said there was no solution in the pipeline.

Nothing much seems to have changed in the meantime as far as we can see although a few more manufacturers have issued fixes and made fobs more secure. The trouble is that criminals seem to be constantly one step ahead and find ways to get around these added security measures.

These kinds of approaches are often used for more high-value cars that thieves have identified beforehand. As with the BBC story above, they will target several vehicles in one night, drive them off and sell them on.

How to Cut Your Risk of Relay Theft

While this sort of theft is on the increase, there are a few things to do that should cut down your risk. Here are our tips:

Park in a Well-Lit Area

While it will not completely reduce your risk, keeping your car in a well-lit area when it is parked up can help reduce the chances of a theft of this type. The thief with the relay box has to be close to the car so the more visible they are the less likely they are to risk being caught. If you park on a driveway, adding a security light that is turned on by movement during the night can also be a cost-effective measure.

Use a Steering Lock

Adding other security measures, even in a new car that is supposed to be highly secure makes sense. That could mean putting in a steering lock. While thieves can bypass these, it takes time. The more you can add doubt and put the thief off the better.

Use a Key Fob Blocker

Putting your key fob in a metal container that blocks the signal so that this type of theft is difficult to pull off can also help. There are different types available on the market at the moment, from secure boxes to smaller pouches and they only cost a few pounds. These are also called Faraday pouches and are a good investment, not least for giving you peace of mind.

Update Your Key Software

You should also make sure that you keep your key software updated at all times. Manufacturers like BMW have an app that gives you updates and is relatively easy to use.

What About Insurance?

One of the big concerns is whether insurance companies are covering this kind of theft seeing as it is on the rise in most parts of the UK, including Essex. Companies have not to date had a good record here. There have been cases of claims being denied and even of drivers being accused of fraud. In recent years, the Financial Ombudsman Service has ordered several well-known insurance companies to pay out on claims for potential relay theft after they initially refused.

It’s a good idea to check with your insurance company if you have a car that is operated using a fob key and what their track record is for paying out on theft claims.