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Insurers warn of new car theft device

Criminals are finding new ways of stealing vehicles with sophisticated starting systems.
Criminals are finding new ways of stealing vehicles with sophisticated starting systems.
Image: Supplied

The Insurance Crime Bureau has warned of an increase in car thefts by criminal syndicates using a method known as a “relay attack.” This device targets new-generation cars that have keyless entry and ignition technology.

It’s different from the known signal-jamming device, which prevents the car from locking so criminals can gain access to the vehicle. This new device gives criminals access to the vehicle to copy the signal — meaning they can unlock and start the car, and drive away with it.

The device, examples of which police have confiscated, intercepts the signals sent by the key fob while it’s looking for the linked car, which allows criminals to open it and steal the contents or even the vehicle itself. 

Wynand van Vuuren, client experience lead at King Price Insurance, says the company’s clients will be covered for the theft of their cars through these new relay attacks. However, laptops and other items that are stolen in this way will only be covered if they are specified as portable possessions. 

There is no need for a client to prove that such a device was used for the car to be stolen or accessed. All they have to show is that the car was insured for theft and premiums are paid. If the car is stolen, the way in which it was stolen doesn’t have anything to do with the client, and the client doesn’t have any onus to prove how this was done, van Vuuren said.

It’s also important to check whether your policy contains an exclusion that says high-value items are only covered for theft from a car when there are visible signs of forced entry into the vehicle.

The easiest way to avoid a relay attack is to deactivate the keyless entry functionality if you are in a high-risk area, according to King Price. This process varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.

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