Direct Line magazine

Are you at risk of relay theft?

Updated on: 15 June 2021

a thief tries the handle on a car door

Cars are getting smarter. Unfortunately, so are thieves. Relay theft is a new method used to steal cars, and you're at risk if your car has keyless entry technology.

Relay theft isn’t an opportunist crime. It’s planned, requires specialist equipment and is carried out by organised criminal gangs.

To fight it effectively, we need to get smarter.

How does relay theft work?

Relay theft requires two or more thieves. Using the latest technology, they trick your car into thinking your keys are physically present.

One thief will stand close to your house with a device that boosts the signal from your car keys. This signal is then relayed to the second thief who is next to your car and has a second device that can use the signal to unlock your vehicle.

Using this technique, it can take less than two minutes for thieves to gain full access to your car. 

Is your car at risk of relay theft?

Any car that uses keyless entry is at risk of relay theft.

Thieves will often target newer, high-value vehicles with the knowledge that they are likely to be equipped with the technology.

What can you do to make your car more secure?

Here are a few simple steps to minimise the risk of relay theft:

  1. Keep keys away from doors and windows

    Don’t make it easy for thieves. Although leaving your keys in the hallway may be convenient, it’s also easy for thieves to pick up the signal. The further away the keys are from your vehicle, the harder it is for criminals to pick up the signal and unlock your car.

  2. Keep your keys in a metal box or container

    This can prevent the signal from reaching the relay thieves. To be extra secure, you could also purchase a Faraday pouch. This is made from material specifically designed to block these types of signals.

  3. Invest in the right technology

    Most modern cars are fitted with alarms and immobilisers as standard. However, thieves’ technology is advancing in line with that of manufacturers’, and a “belt and braces” approach to car safety could make the difference when deterring potential thieves.

Steering wheel, pedal and gear locks are inexpensive, easy to install and off-putting to criminals. And tracking devices or CCTV systems fitted near your car can help track down your vehicle and the perpetrator should it be taken.

Read this article on anti-theft locking devices to see what devices are available.

Park smart

If you don’t have the luxury of a private garage or off-street parking, do try to park in a well-lit, populated area whenever possible. Thieves will always target vehicles left in areas where they have little chance of being seen, so parking in side roads or areas away from street lights could put your vehicle at risk.

Be vigilant

The tried-and-tested methods for keeping your car secure are still relevant. Report any suspicious activity to local police or neighbourhood watch associations. And make sure your car is locked and alarmed when not in use.

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