back to article Keyless vehicle theft suspects cuffed after key Met Police, er, 'lockdown'

Police have arrested 16 suspects on suspicion of car theft during the first week of an operation targeting keyless vehicle theft. Operation Endeavour was launched by the Metropolitan Police in response to a rise in theft of motor vehicles. Organised criminals increasingly stealing keyless vehicles using a device which bypasses …

  1. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Microdots ?

    Didn't Tommorows World (so must be 25 years old) show a system of spraying thousands of microdots with the VIN (look em up kids) all over a car. The idea being you could never remove them all, and only one would be needed to link a gearbox/engine/ECU (think about the last) to a stolen car.

    The problem being the second a car is in pieces (where it's worth more than as a car) then the police are on the back foot having to prove where the piece came from.

    1. James Micallef Silver badge

      Re: Microdots ?

      First guess, too costly.

    2. WonkoTheSane

      Re: Microdots ?

      It's called "Smartwater"

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Microdots ?

      I remember them...

      ...Happy days ;)

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Microdots ?

      Microdots didn't help my brand new £8000 Suzuki get recovered when it was lifted in 2000.

      Neither did the top of the range alarm/immobiliser with remote alert.

      The thieving scumbags are way ahead of all this expensive nonsense. I've found that the way forward seems to be to own a 20 year old vehicle which they can't be bothered nicking.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Microdots ?

        It's the same with bicycles, nobody has found a foolproof way of stopping those getting stolen. Cars are only less vulnerable due to their sheer weight and alarms. It wouldn't stop someone with a tow truck from being able to just pick it up and drive away if it had no alarm.

        We had a lot of car crime beaten until a market for dodgy luxury imports appeared and the sums of money became enough to tempt some clever hacker types to turn rogue.

        1. Jan 0 Silver badge

          Re Alarms and "tow trucks"

          > "It wouldn't stop someone with a tow truck from being able to just pick it up and drive away if it had no alarm."

          I see you've never been to East London, where you'll hear plenty of alarms from vehicles being towed or on low loaders. Nobody takes any notice.

      2. Stevie

        Re: the way forward

        I once owned a Mini Traveller which I bet real money people couldn't steal even sitting in it with the keys in hand. I never lost money.

        Most couldn't find the starter. It was under the driver's seat - original equipment too - you pushed the solenoid in with your thumb (or, rumour had it, you could use a stiletto heel if you wore such things). It was like starting a helicopter.

        But the kicker was that almost no-one could find the battery (under the rear seat). Because in those days there was no need for "vital" electronic components to be powered up at all times people could and did fit simple rotary battery isolation switches. No juice, no start, no theft.

        With the advent of the Raspberry Pi it occurs to me that a bright lad could fit an aftermarket device to turn off the ignition and jam the horn on if, after a few seconds, the computer couldn't detect the rfid device on your key fob.

        If it weren't for the nanny state protecting the poor criminals you could replace the pansy horn blowing idea with a more manly phosgene dispenser connected to the air-vents, epilepsy-inducing strobe lights in the dashboard and overhead and ankle-level underseat flamethrowers.

        Last week a friend was moaning on the uselessness of house alarm systems. I suggested he have his expensive system coupled to his powerful in-ground lawn sprinklers.

        "What's the point?" he asked. "So they get wet".

        Well, you can't stop the thieving, but you can make it much less comfortable for the bastards doing it, which is why my house alarm has an indoor siren as loud as the outdoor one. The thieves will be able to work with no interruptions from the police, but they'll be deaf for days afterwards. I know. It went off by accident around Christmas and I have the eardrums to prove it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: the way forward

          Well, you can't stop the thieving, but you can make it much less comfortable for the bastards doing it

          That's also the idea behind the shop fog systems - maybe that would be a fun one to install. What I personally would want is a system that makes the ECU behave like it's in emergency mode so it won't rev over 2000 rpm and generally behaves like it's about to cut out. Thieves who steal cars with electronic keys generally do this to DRIVE away. If you can make the car appear flawed and risky to drive it may just get abandoned instead.

          I did hear of a very old anti-theft device used by the owner of a convertible. I suspect it's urban legend, but he was apparently using a rusty nail - thieves jumping in tended to depart just as quickly. If only ..

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: the way forward

          "an indoor siren as loud as the outdoor one."

          Yes,I remember them being fitted at work 20 years ago. They were called sound bombs. You could barely make yourself understood when they went off. Thankfully only tested out of hours.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: the way forward

            Well you need to do something because the police, in general, are not very interested in car theft. Our lords and masters would rather they spent their time chasing "terrorists", helping the US film industry maintain their enormous profits... all the while producing statistics showing us that crime is going down.... yeah, right, pull the other one it's got bells on it.

    5. Joe Harrison

      Re: Microdots ?

      What if the crooks get their own bucket of random microdots and overwrite the real ones?

  2. Stuart 22

    Just a beginning?

    This is very impressive. I trust the police will be scaling up their operation to cover the greater number of bicycles stolen. Or does using a key but not a V6 disqualify one from having one's method of transport protected?

    1. rhydian

      Re: Just a beginning?

      Without registration, serial numbers and chassis numbers how do you expect a stolen bike to be identified?

      1. Stuart 22

        Re: Just a beginning?

        Most bikes already have a stamped frame number which is recorded if you register them with the police. Plus they etch on their own number. Otherwise you should be able to retrieve the frame number from the shop you got it from. So that's not a big problem. Next?

        1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

          Re: Just a beginning?

          Police? Oh, I seem to remember seeing one around here once upon a time.

          They've closed all the local Plod Stations so I'd have to trek into Blazingspoke some 20+ miles away (After making an appointment) to get my bike frame etched. How many people who got a bike for Christmas will be getting their marked? Not many is my guess.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Just a beginning?

        Frame stamps, unique features (not all bikes are factory spec), tracking system in the frame.

        But the point is some people's bikes are worth more than cars yet the Police don't care.

        1. rhydian

          @Stuart22, AC

          OK, so some bikes have stamped frame numbers.

          First of all, are these a legal requirement?

          Are these held centrally like car VIN details?

          Are they required to be tied to a specific identity/registration document?

          If I owned an expensive (£1000+) bike, I'd treat it exactly as I would a classic car with no anti theft devices fitted. I'd get a proper aftermarket lock and alarm and park it in secure areas only.

          It took car manufacturers fitting standard immobilisers (and enough years to see off most old cars without) to cut "bread and butter" car thefts. What's needed is for the cycle industry to do the same regarding decent anti-theft measures.

          And as for the police caring more about cars, try getting them interested in a 10 year old banger being pinched...

          1. Stuart 22

            Re: @Stuart22, AC

            OK, so some bikes have stamped frame numbers.

            First of all, are these a legal requirement?

            Are these held centrally like car VIN details?

            Are they required to be tied to a specific identity/registration document?

            No, no, no & no. But that is irrelevant. Nearly all bikes are marked by the manufacturer. You can get it marked by the police too in London and probably elsewhere. If they are stolen they do, if the police can be bothered, go on to the stolen database. So, if I'm stopped they should be able to quickly establish if the bike was stolen and who from. Just like a Range Rover or BMW.

            There are well known places where dodgy bikes are traded. These are very thinly policed because of scarce resources. But if we can find resources for reclaiming vanity cars it must be of even greater value to reclaim essential transport? Probably in greater numbers. More cases solved. Better result unless you are looking at book value.

            Or is the negativity in the voting above reflective of the values of our society of which the police are just a part?

            Just askin'

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @Stuart22, AC

              I agree with so much of your comment that it seems churlish to quibble. But that's most of the point of the comments section so here goes:

              Not all of these will be "vanity cars". Some will be the owner's only means of transport, which they will see as essential for travelling to work etc. While every single £1000+ bike I know of is somebody's vanity bike, carefully assembled after hundreds of nauseating hours staring at websites just a leeetle too intently. And every owner has multiple bikes.

              And to defend the police I do know someone whose vanity bike was recovered more than six months after it was stolen. The insurance company had paid out, so he didn't have it back, but it does happen.

            2. Jos V

              Re: @Stuart22, AC

              Actually, one could take an example from Japan. When you buy a bicycle, it gets fixed with a marker on the frame with a registration code. You get a vehicle registration card with this.

              You can be stopped randomly on the street by police officers checking the number and matching registration card, much as with a car.

              It can be done in other words.

            3. rhydian

              Re: @Stuart22, AC

              @Stuart 22

              Unless you want bikes to carry properly visible registration plates (just like motorbikes and cars) any police detection of "stolen" bikes would involve either having to upturn and check every bike in a cycle parking rack or officers stopping cyclists in the street to "check their details". Neither of which is really workable on a large scale. As mentioned before, bikes are much too easy to hide (in plain sight or in the back of a transit) and are still ridiculously easy to steal.

              As for these cars being "Range Rovers and BMWs" the simple fact is that its no longer worth stealing anything much lower value than a BMW, Audi or Mercedes. Aunt Doris' Fiesta won't yield much in saleable parts, so they're usually taken for the fun of it or during house break-ins to take the loot home. Rangies and BMWs usually attract the more violent organised crime gangs, with reports of people being threatened and attacked so they hand over the keys. I've never heard of someone being threatened at knifepoint if they didn't hand over a set of bike lock keys.

        2. AbelSoul

          Re: some people's bikes are worth more than cars

          Very true, although having had a couple of my own bikes swiped over the years, I tend to ride a sub-£200 effort these days.

          Still gets me where I'm going in around the same time as the super-lightweight-fancy-pants-expensive-bastard-of-a-thing I had swiped a few years back.

          That said, cycling is mainly a means to a destination for me.

          Never was a trick-cyclist either.

  3. A Twig

    "Police reckon the parts – some of which appear to belong to 12 BMWs reported as stolen from east London – would have been exported from Cyprus to other countries for sale."

    Not surprised, given the amount of Cyprus based Land Rover parts dealers that have appeared on eBay over the last year or so, who always have those "hard to get hold of" bits, particularly for classic LRs. I know the British Army had a big presence there which accounts for a fair chunk, but the amount and range of parts always seemed a bit too large to be just army cast offs.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not surprised, given the amount of Cyprus based Land Rover parts dealers

      or the amount of Range Rovers, Audi Q7's and top range BMW's driven by 16-30 year olds in the mainly Cypriot area's of London

  4. Little Mouse

    Old-school tech

    Remember those extendable steering wheel locks? They were ubiquitous back in the day, but I haven't seen one in years. I can't say I miss them though...

    1. auburnman

      Re: Old-school tech

      Weren't they as good as a sign saying "Please smash my window" if you parked in the wrong area? Could be wrong but I thought that and built-in immobilisers led to their decline.

      1. rhydian

        Re: Old-school tech

        Proper factory fitted immobilisers combined with properly meaty built-in steering locks essentially killed off the old crooklock as a device to stop joyriders.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Old-school tech

      Can of freeze spray and a hammer, don't last long.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Old-school tech

      They've been making a comeback. You still need 'em with old classic cars.

    4. Mark Allen

      Re: Old-school tech

      The point is to make your car too much hassle to nick, so they move to an easier one. This is why I park my grubby Honda, complete with dents and dings, next to the poshest car in the car park.

    5. Horridbloke

      Re: Old-school tech

      I gave up on my crooklock when I switched to a car with an airbag - the thing wouldn't physically fit on the obese steering wheel.

  5. Frank Bitterlich

    Keyless Vehicle Theft...

    This story has a less technical viewpoint than expected (for me at least). "Keyless Vehicle Theft" means theft without a key (which I'd guess covers at least 95% of all car thefts). Not necessarily a keyless car. While the Met police article links to another one on the methods of stealing keyless cars, I'd guess this is the exception rather than the rule.

    So, read "keyless" as "jamming a screwdriver into the ignition lock" rather than "mad scientist cracks OBD encryption key using an abacus and duct tape" in most cases.

    I still wonder how complicated it really is to forge wireless keys from the available data (via OBD).

    1. badger31

      Re: Keyless Vehicle Theft...

      So, read "keyless" as "jamming a screwdriver into the ignition lock"

      You don't even need to drive the car to steal it, just drag it on to the back of a lorry. If they are getting broken up for parts, they don't need to run.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Valeyard

      Re: Keyless Vehicle Theft...

      Yeah i was hoping for some more tech background too :(

      1. Robert Helpmann??

        Re: Keyless Vehicle Theft...

        I was hoping for real information on how to better secure a vehicle, either avec or sans clé. Instead, we are given some generic advice from the po-po to just be careful. Perhaps someone might develop robots that look and act like a particularly aggressive predator to be left in the cab of the vehicle. The owner should be able to turn it off remotely, though putting the off switch down its gullet might be entertaining.

  6. Ian 62

    Having watched a few youtube vides of RepoMan, a US repossession agent, car security seems a bit of a waste of time. I realise he has spent some time and money customising a good recovery vehicle and he knows his business, but seeing how fast he can remove a parked vehicle is something of an education.

    If you weren't concerned about doing it safely, or your business reputation anything on wheels is a moveable feast!

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      " I realise he has spent some time and money customising a good recovery vehicle and he knows his business, but seeing how fast he can remove a parked vehicle is something of an education."

      Professional gangs dress up as recovery trucks. Noone blinks an eye when one goes past with its cargo sounding its alarm helplessly.

      1. nijam Silver badge

        > Professional gangs dress up as recovery trucks...

        Yes, they even stole a recovery truck from a local garage a couple of years back, presumably for that very reason.

  7. Bob Dole (tm)

    Car keys, just like any other type of key, protect you from two types of thieves: blithering idiots and the desperate. They do not protect you from anyone who takes just a little bit of time to think it through.

    As others have mentioned, the easiest way to steal a car is simply to own a tow truck. No one questions a two truck driver hooking up to a car. Heck if the owner comes out and starts throwing a fit people would still ignore it because they would think it was being repossessed. A thief could probably even convince the owner that they need to take it up with their bank or the police then simply drive off.

    They only real "defense" is to make recovery as easy as possible. LoJack or similar services so that you can quickly find the car once you know it's gone. Then again, I'm sure a half way decent faraday cage could buy the crooks enough time to locate those devices...

    1. Tromos

      ...half way decent faraday cage...

      Such as a container bound for Cyprus?

    2. Sykobee

      For those people without trackers...

      Leave an old/cheap phone with it's own Google Now account permanently plugged into the car, with location tracking enabled. Do cars come with USB charging ports inside the glove compartment yet? Better still would be somewhere better hidden than the glove compartment... USB charging ports inside seat-back pockets?

      Use Google's location finder to track the car if it's stolen (most likely by a fake recovery truck). No use putting the car in a Faraday cage if the location tracking leads to that place.

      Other benefits include having a phone always within the car (remember to top up the sim or whatever) for emergencies, being able to track other drivers of the car, and so on.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's unfortunate

    ...that none of these crims will go to prison for more than 10 years. That way they can get out and continue their trade.

    1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: It's unfortunate

      You have 255 rejected comments, the vast majority of which consist of you fantasising about prisons, imprisonment in general or prison rape in particular. Is there something you want to share with the group?

      1. death&taxes

        Re: It's unfortunate

        All for free speech and all that but I'd prefer he/she didn't...

  9. Da Weezil

    A number of people here seem to be unaware that many cars have a chipped key that "talks" to a reader that often surrounds the steering lock / ignition barrel, Overcoming that to the point where a car can be driven can be a "tech task", Without the ECU getting the correct code from the chip in the key the engine usually wont start. Clearly that issue is one of the major concerns of the police and is very much a technical matter

  10. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    My 36 year old car has a nearly foolproof anti-theft device. In addition to it being a stick shift (which most US criminals apparantly can't drive) it has a big knob on the dashboard labeled 'Choke'.

    Crank away, guys. This thing isn't starting.

  11. Nolveys


    Someone tried to steal my car once, I found his corpse sitting next to the driver door. The poor thing had died of embarrassment.

    Mine's the one from 1997 with the half-missing Dodge Neon logo and a muffler grafted on with a soup can and two ring clamps.

    1. Stevie

      Re: Unstealable

      This bodge-job exhaust pipe "repair" will likely cost you your life.

      Everyone knows you are supposed to fix busted exhaust pipes with baked bean cans.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Unstealable

      A few years ago my dad had a classic Morris Minor and was worried about it being nicked. Together we fitted a toggle switch behind the dash (that you could reach up and flip with your finger) that cut the power to the electric fuel pump. There was enough fuel to get started and drive a couple of hundred yards and then the car would cut out as if out of fuel.

      One day he went on holiday and forgot all about the switch. He drove off and duly broke down a few hundred yards from the hotel. He couldn't figure out what had gone wrong, so called the AA out. Took the AA man more than 30 minutes to figure it out and just as he was deciding there was inexplicably no leccy getting to the fuel pump the penny dropped in my dad's head. He'd never been so embarassed.

      Nice bit of low tech. Had the pro fooled - just needs to be something different on your vehicle.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Unstealable

        "Together we fitted a toggle switch behind the dash (that you could reach up and flip with your finger) that cut the power to the electric fuel pump. There was enough fuel to get started and drive a couple of hundred yards and then the car would cut out as if out of fuel."

        Funnily enough that's exactly what a "courtesy key" does. The fuelpump is primed and then switched off when the engine's started.

        Unfortunately thieves know about that one and prolific thieves used to simply carry a replacement dummy relay which was jammed on. Pop the hood, change it out and the car's gone.

        One of the nastier cutouts I devised was quite simple: a 20 second monostable timer driving the "enable" input of a transistorised ignition fitted to my mother's car. Car would start, drive a little, cut out, then restart, drive a little more and cut out again (back in the days of carburetters, no fuel pump to switch off).

        Someone did try to steal it. They left it about 75 yards down the road.

        1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

          Re: Unstealable

          The other trick which I suspect would throw most thieves brave enough to attempt swiping my truck is to slip the transfer case into neutral when I park it someplace seedy.

    3. Steven Raith

      Re: Unstealable

      "Dodge Neon"

      You sick fuck.

      Says the owner of a (currently sickly) bright yellow Ford Puma.

      Suppose I'm in no position to criticise....

      Steven R

  12. John 104

    Trunk Monkey

    All you need....

  13. Kernel
    Thumb Up

    You've got to admire the modern criminal

    The fact that they are able to drive away a modern car that has an immobilizer is a sure sign that the modern car thief is highly skilled.

    In fact, I can only suggest that they apply for a job at my local Hyundai dealership, who's current team, with the benefit of all technical manuals, the Hyundai scan tool and full factory support were unable to code two new (Hyundai supplied) keys to the immobilizer in my car.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: You've got to admire the modern criminal

      "I can only suggest that they apply for a job at my local Hyundai dealership"

      Stealerships don't usually pay mechanics enough to keep the smart ones (the sales staff think they're Gods, but its the service which keeps customers coming back - or not). What you usually find out the back is deadwood and apprentices.

  14. Medixstiff

    VIN and Engine number plates used to be welded onto the firewall and engine in Oz but my current car a 2010 model has them on stickers on the pillar for the drivers side door.

    Which is so stupid i cannot believe someone actually made it a requirement. all they need to do now is peel it off and put another sticker on, how is that in any way supposed to stop rebadging?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Buy a quick fix

    There’s a place already selling “military spec” car key faraday cages for this exact purpose, which car rental companies have been using for years:

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