Criminals using WhatsApp groups fuels rise in car thefts

Expert insight suggests car thieves are using encrypted messaging services to make lists of cars which are then stolen to order

Criminals in the UK are using WhatsApp group chats to plan and execute car thefts, with culprits drawing up ‘shopping lists’ of models which are then stolen to order.

AX, which provides vehicle protection and management technologies for the automotive and insurance industries, says encrypted social media platforms have contributed to a rise in car thefts, with the other key contributing factor being the vulnerability of keyless entry systems.

• Fewer than half of all stolen cars recovered by police

According to figures from the Home Office, the number of vehicles stolen in the UK has doubled in the last five years.

Neil Thomas, an ex-police officer now working as director of investigative services at AX, has explained that today’s car criminals mobilisie on social media – particularly apps with encrypted group messaging, such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal – to decide on their preferred target, pricing and buyer.

The thieves then prepare ‘cloned’ number plates of similar models and set about the actual theft, often using relay attacks to get past keyless entry and start systems, before removing the vehicle’s tracker.

“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,” said Thomas.

• Worst areas for car theft revealed

“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.

“The thieves who take the initial risk get the cash payment, then the buyer, who now has a tracker-free car can then 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.

“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.”

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