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Car thieves exploiting WhatsApp

Motor thieves are using WhatsApp groups to plan and execute car thefts as the UK vehicle crime wave continues, according to vehicle protection specialists at AX.

Criminals draw up and share ‘shopping lists’ of makes and models so that vehicles can be stolen to order, says the provider of intelligent vehicle protection and management technologies for the automotive and insurance industries.

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Fuelled by encrypted social media platforms such as WhatsApp, the wave of thefts has been intensified by the vulnerability of ‘keyless’ systems which criminals are able to exploit using key signal amplifiers and decoders costing thousands.

Home Office figures show the number of vehicles stolen in Britain has almost doubled in the last five years. In 2017-18, nearly 112,000 cars were taken illegally, up from 75,308 in the 2013-14 financial year.

The insights from AX’s Director of Investigative Services, Neil Thomas, exposes the newly favoured WhatsApp tactics used by today’s car criminals. From the initial theft and removal of trackers, to the dismantling of vehicles for parts and networks through which cars are exported.

“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.

“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.”

Typically, criminals – or whole gangs in some cases – mobilise on social media where they agree their preferred targets, pricing and buyer before preparing bogus number-plates from similar vehicles to rapidly clone vehicles.

Thomas added: “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.”

THE 5-STEP PROCESS USED BY VEHICLE THIEVES

(ACCORDING TO AX’S NEIL THOMAS)

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AX helps businesses and drivers manage and protect their vehicles, providing accident assistance services including recovery, repair and replacement cars, as well as devices and services to combat fraud.

The motor fraud investigation and vehicle protection team at AX – formerly known as APU Ltd – was established ten years ago to combine technology with human intelligence. Staffed by former Police officers and forensic data analysts, AX has been successful in facilitating numerous motor fraud prosecutions in the UK and recovering stolen vehicles from across the UK, Europe and Africa.

In terms of motorists protecting themselves, Thomas advises: “We always suggest parking in well-lit areas and would now recommend old-fashioned steering wheels locks, as well as considering covert devices to protect their vehicle.”

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