Today’s connected vehicle thief: a careful planner and schemer

  • December 6, 2016
  • Scott at LoJack

Many people still perceive auto theft as mostly a crime of opportunity. Teens out late at night stealing cars to go joyriding. A thief jumping into a vehicle running unattended and driving off. A bump and run carjacking.

Those methods are still widespread and require vigilance. But today’s connected vehicle thief is also more methodical and patient than ever before, using any number of schemes requiring planning and more advanced skills. We often highlight these advanced methods, like VIN-cloning and copying smart keys.

But here are other examples you may not know about:

  • Rental sleight of hand: Thieves will rent a vehicle and obtain a copy of the key from a locksmith. Then, they’ll return the vehicle to the rental agency after placing a tracking device on it. After some time goes by – and the vehicle has been rented a few times – they’ll track down the vehicle and steal it with the copied key.
  • Insurance fraud: A thief will buy a vehicle and get a bank loan, purchase insurance, then falsely report it stolen and file a claim.
  • “Cooling spots”: Thieves will put stolen vehicles in parking garages or lots for a period of days, until they are sure the police aren’t tracking them through a stolen vehicle recovery system. Once this cooling period is over, the vehicles are often loaded onto containers and shipped overseas illegally.
  • Inside jobs: Thieves will get a legitimate job at an automotive dealership – i.e. as a manager or mechanic – then duplicate a key while a vehicle is at the dealership, and provide the copied key to the crime ring they belong to.
  • Relay attack: Hackers can exploit the vulnerability in wireless key fobs, amplifying the connection between the keys and the vehicle, allowing them to unlock the vehicle and drive it off.
  • Check scams: Thieves will purchase a vehicle online – such as through Craigslist – and send the seller a fraudulent certified check. The seller will then deliver the vehicle, and by the time the check is confirmed as a fraud, both the vehicle and buyer are gone.

Each of these tactics share a common theme: the thief is more organized, knows the system and plans the theft from start to finish. Often, thieves have a level of business acumen, technology expertise and organizational skills.

Opportunistic thefts are still a major problem. But as vehicles become more technology-enabled and part of our digital lives, the connected vehicle thief will continue adapting these tactics further, employing these skills in new and sophisticated ways.

Being aware of these advanced methods is the first step to help vehicle owners and auto dealers protect their vehicles from theft.