IT’S USUALLY upmarket cars such as Range Rovers and BMWs in the news for keyless theft, but now the family favourite Ford Fiesta supermini has become one of the most targeted by criminal gangs.
According to Cleveland Police in Middlesbrough, 90 keyless cars have been reported stolen in the area since December and half of them were Ford Fiestas.
The humble Fiestas are being nicked using a device called a ‘relay box’ to extend the signal from the car’s keyless fob. As previously reported by Driving, these devices cost very little and can be bought on Amazon and eBay.
A relay box tricks the car’s locking system into thinking it’s the real key fob, allowing crooks to get into the vehicle and drive off in mere minutes.
Police issued a warning to car owners in Cleveland following the thefts, urging drivers to be aware of the relay box device and to follow these crime prevention tips:
- Review your car security. Consider a good quality steering lock for your vehicle. Look for a model which is Thatcham-approved. This is a great visual deterrent to a thief.
- Contact your car dealer and talk about the digital features in your car. Have there been any software updates you can take advantage of?
- Check if your keyless entry fob can be turned off. If it can, and your dealer can also confirm this, then do so overnight.
- Store your keys in a Secured by Design approved key shield. Keeping your keyless entry fob out of sight is not enough. Consider purchasing a keyless fob blocking bag. Try your local car accessories store or search ‘Faraday Bag’ on the well-known shopping sites.
- When parking your vehicle consider using a car park with the Safer Parking Award, signified by a blue tick symbol. When returning to your car – be aware of your surroundings and who is hanging around.
- Ensure your car is locked, all windows are shut and all valuables are removed before leaving your vehicle unattended
- Be vigilant. Keep an eye out for suspicious activity in your neighbourhood and report anything unusual to Police on 101 (999 in an emergency)
Cleveland Police said two thirds of the 90 stolen vehicles have now been recovered and 27 arrests had been made. Six of the men arrested were charged with theft of a motor vehicle and 16 more, aged between 15 to 49-years-old, were released pending investigation. Five off the men arrested were released without charge.
A Ford spokesperson told Driving.co.uk that the Fiesta thefts had not arisen as a result of a security deficiency being introduced on the Fiesta over time and that its prevalence in the Cleveland Police car crime stats was related to the the fact that the model is UK’s top-selling car.
Last September, West Midlands Police released CCTV footage of a gang using one to steal a Mercedes from a driveway in just 60 seconds.
During the short clip a man waves a box in front of the property and waits for it to receive a signal from the key inside before transmitting it to the second box next to the car. The car then allows them access and they drive off, without anyone noticing.
In 2014, Driving reported on the case of an Audi RS4 owner in the West Midlands who had captured thieves stealing the keyless-entry car from his driveway.
The video appears to show crooks breaking a window and then plugging a device into the dashboard. Just 90 seconds after the four masked and hooded thieves broke the window they drove away the £70,000 Audi.
Then, in 2015, we covered the story of a Ford Focus RS hatchback owner who’d had his £30car stolen in a similar way. Robert Grosvenor’s hot hatch had cost £34,000 when new in 2010, making it one of the more expensive Fords, but owners of cheaper models fitted with keyless systems were also beginning to report thefts, suspected to have been carried out using the same technique.
Richard Coles, of the FordSToc.com web forum, told us it had become an epidemic: “Not a week has gone by in the past six months that we haven’t had a member’s car stolen.”
In a statement, Ford said: “Ford Motor Company takes vehicle security seriously and continuously invests in technology to deter theft of, and from, our vehicles. Additionally a growing issue is the availability of security tools, which should be confined to dealerships and other specialists, being on uncontrolled public sale. Fords are sold with competitive levels of standard security equipment.
“Every new Fiesta comes with an immobiliser and four out of five series of new Fiesta include a Thatcham category one alarm as standard. This means that once set the in-built alarm system sounds if the car is entered by person or object, there is movement in the cabin, any attempt is made to raise the car (to remove a wheel or tow it away) or the ignition is brought live without a correctly coded key being present.
“If criminals reach the OBD port (the diagnostic port within the vehicle used by dealer technicians to access the vehicle’s electrical system), any attempt to plug into the car’s diagnostics automatically initiates a 10-minute software lockdown, while the alarm continues to be emitted.
“Further attempts to access the system during lockdown restarts the 10-minute wait period, eliminating the possibility of rapid illegitimate programming of keys for the car via the OBD. Owners of older Fords have the option of fitting the OBD port with a guard to prevent programming of keys.”
Around 85,000 cars were reported stolen last year alone with 70% of the owners still having their keys on them.