Car thieves face curbs on online sales of key hacking technology fuelling surge in crime

Criminal gangs of car thieves face new legal curbs to prevent them buying DIY devices online to hack keyless technology and steal vehicles.

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Ministers and police chiefs are considering legislation to close loopholes that allow the devices to be bought online on sites including eBay and Amazon.

Amid a surge in thefts, the Telegraph found firms freely selling electronic equipment to hack keyless cars, jammers to disable trackers and modern “skeleton” keys to open and drive away vehicles.

Police chiefs and motor manufacturers are concerned the ready availability of the technology is fuelling a rise in car thefts which increased by 14 per cent last year to more than 105,000.

Criminals are getting the equipment online and then “productionizing” it for cheap mass use by gangs of thieves, according to Thatcham Research, the motor insurers’ automotive research centre.

Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, held a summit of police and car industry chiefs last week to consider counter measures and is understood to be “open” to new laws to close the loopholes.

Assistant chief constable Jenny Sims, the National Police Chief Council’s (NPCC) lead on vehicle crime, said she was engaged in a “big piece of work” with the online firms to prevent sales of the devices to criminals and restrict it to legitimate businesses like garages, car dealers and locksmiths.

“We are looking at whether or not there are any legislative changes we can make, but at the same time we are working with sellers as legislation takes time. We’d rather do it voluntarily through the sellers who are cooperating,” she said.

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It is not illegal to sell, buy or possess the technology but police can arrest prospective thieves if they have the equipment with them and can be shown to be “going equipped” to steal a vehicle.

One company based in Bulgaria offered an off-the-shelf “car relay attack unit.” This enables one member of a gang to scan and capture the signal from a keyless fob in a house before “relaying” it to a colleague by the car to open it and drive it…