Crime Trends

Tracker calls time on tech-savvy car thieves

Keyless car theft at an all-time high, prompting plans to clampdown on the sale of hacking technology

Tracker is urging motorists to be extra vigilant as the number of car thefts from key hacking continue to rise across the UK. 94% of vehicles recovered by Tracker in the first half of 2022 were stolen without the thief having possession of the keys - an all-time high.

The warning comes as concerns over the ready availability of key hacking technology, now commonly used by criminal gangs to steal cars, have prompted government ministers and police to consider introducing legislation to close online sales loopholes.

Online firms are legally selling electronic equipment which is being used illegally by criminals to hack keyless car systems, jammers which disable GPS trackers and “skeleton” keys. Criminals are purchasing the equipment online and “productionising” it for cheap mass use by organised gangs of thieves.

Steve Whittaker, Police Liaison Manager at Tracker, explained; “The technology employed by criminals is not new and is routinely used by legitimate businesses like garages, car dealers and locksmiths. Unfortunately, when it gets into the wrong hands it can be used by criminal gangs to override car security and give them access to a vehicle. It’s one of the main reasons why we are seeing more and more vehicles being stolen without thieves having a manufacturer provided key fob in their possession. New laws to close online sales loopholes should reverse that trend and we applaud the police and sellers of the technology who are working collaboratively to drive change.”

Tracker stresses that it is important to use a combination of barriers to stop opportunistic thieves, including traditional physical security devices like steering wheel locks and wheel clamps. In addition, owners of keyless cars should consider placing the key fob into a signal blocking pouch when the vehicle is not being driven. These are lined with layers of metallic material to stop a key's signal from being intercepted by hacking technology. However, thieves are increasingly determined and in the event of a vehicle being stolen, an SVR solution will significantly increase the chances of it being quickly recovered and returned before it’s sold on, stripped for parts or shipped abroad.

As the only SVR provider that works with the UK’s police forces to assist in recovering stolen vehicles, Tracker’s detection units are fitted in over 2,000 police patrol vehicles and throughout the national fleet of Police helicopters that comprise the National Police Air Service.

Working like an electronic homing device, a covert transmitter is hidden in one of several dozen places around the vehicle. There is no visible aerial, so the thief won’t know it’s there. Furthermore, its unique combination of VHF with GPS/GSM technology makes its units resistant to GPS/GSM jamming and enables the police to pinpoint a stolen vehicle if it is hidden in a container or lock-up. This makes it particularly valuable for detecting stolen vehicles hidden in containers at major UK seaports.

The Tracker Mesh Network is also instrumental in successfully locating stolen vehicles. When a vehicle fitted with a Tracker SVR unit passes a Tracker equipped vehicle which has been reported as stolen, the unique Mesh Network listens and automatically sends a silent signal to Tracker’s Head Quarters and the police, providing a pinpoint location of the stolen asset.

Continues Steve Whittaker; “Everybody can play a key role in making sure their vehicles are safe. Taking steps to make a car more secure will reduce the chance of theft, but only a tracking device will improve the chances of recovery if criminals get past these barriers.”


  • Protect the key fob - One element of Keyless car theft works through a relay-style electronic device, which tricks the keyless entry technology installed in the vehicle into thinking that the key is in very close proximity to the car, allowing instant remote access. To prevent a relay attack, all keys, including your spare key should be stored away from where the vehicle is kept when not in use, and the signal blocked by keeping the key fob in a closed tin or faraday bag.
  • Switch off and lock up – Cars should not be left running idle and unattended, even when defrosting windscreens and windows on a cold morning.  
  • Make life difficult – Security posts and/or a substantial gate should be fitted for cars parked on driveways, as physical barriers will make thieves think twice.
  • Keep paperwork indoors - Car documents and spare keys should not be left inside the car as it makes it easier for thieves to sell it on.
  • Plan for the worst - Take car security measures to protect your car from being stolen in the first place, such as installing security lighting where you park your car and using a steering wheel lock.
  • Track it - In the event that the criminals get past the usual security measures, a Tracker device – with a unique combination of GPS and Very High Frequency (VHF) capability – gives owners the best chance of their car being found before it is stripped for parts or shipped abroad.