A topic of much discussion these days is the lack of new and used vehicles on the market, which has been caused by supply chain issues for parts. As consumers wait for their new vehicles to be manufactured, used vehicles are selling fast, causing a perfect opportunity for car theft rings to up their game and try to fill in the gaps.
Car thefts have been rising in Alberta for the past several years, minus a slight drop during the height of the pandemic, with Calgary in particular reporting a surge. In 2018, Calgary beat the rest of Canada for the total number of stolen vehicles, with 6,183 being pinched during the calendar year. 2017 was no better, with about 111 vehicles being stolen each week, also clinching first place for Calgary.
As vehicle technology continues to advance, criminals are becoming more and more sophisticated.
“Criminals are utilizing tools that are purchased online that can make it very easy,” said Bryan Gast, vice-president of investigative services with Équité Association, which works to address insurance fraud, in a September CanadianUnderwriter.ca article.
One of the more popular methods of car theft is by accessing the onboard diagnostic port (ODP) in your vehicle. The ODP is the gatekeeper to a vehicle’s electronic systems. Thieves break into a vehicle, plug into the ODP and then program themselves a new key fob. CanadianUnderwriter.ca suggests installing an ODP lock to cover the port. There are also dummy ODP ports that look like the real one that will also protect your vehicle.
Another sneaky method criminals use is to mark vehicles they have targeted for theft with a tracking tag, such as an AirTag or SmartTag normally used to help people find their lost phones or laptops. That way they can virtually follow your vehicle to your home and go to work on stealing it late at night when everyone is usually asleep. Keep an eye out for an odd tag on your vehicle and if you spot one, report it to the police immediately.
Additional deterrents include steering wheel and gas pedal locks and GPS trackers (professionally installed) so you always know where your vehicle is.
Electronic immobilizers can be overridden from outside your door
Another trend in car theft is what is called a “relay attack.” Thieves, working in pairs, have figured out a way to intercept signals from key fobs left near doors to homes and then clone them right away. One walks near front doors holding an antenna while the other tries pulling car door handles. When the handle is pulled, it triggers a signal from the fob if it is close enough. The antenna then picks up the signal and sends the correct radio frequency. They can then easily reprogram a new fob, access your vehicle and drive it away, all within a manner of minutes.
Your defense against a relay attack is to keep your car keys well away from doors and/or purchase what is called a Faraday box or pouch that blocks and signal being released from the fob.
How to tell if a used vehicle was stolen
If you are buying a used vehicle, being cautious pays off. Ask about the complete history of the vehicle, including its service history. Be sure to check the paperwork thoroughly. It’s important to know if the vehicle has ever been involved in a collision and/or written off. An accident or a write-off can have some implications for your car insurance coverage and affects the overall value of the vehicle.
It’s also crucial to know if there are any liens on the vehicle, which usually means the previous owner still owes money for payments or repairs. If there is a lien, you could eventually become responsible for paying it off.
Before completing a used car purchase, order a complete vehicle information report (VIR) from Service Alberta. This will let you know if the vehicle has been stolen, the vehicle’s status (active, rebuilt, salvage etc.), and if there are any liens against it.
Help reduce crime in your neighbourhood with a community watch group
Although it often seems like it was invented just to cause torment, social media can be a tool for good, especially when it comes to reducing crime. Calgarians are using technology to fight back against criminals. Communities have started neighbourhood block watch groups that employ the power of social media to both help warn their neighbours of suspicious activity, as well as to post video taken from security devices to hopefully help police identify thieves. Community liaison officers often engage with these groups to hear what is going on, advise on the best steps, and provide additional essential communication.
Lane’s Insurance covers Alberta
At Lane’s Insurance, we are committed to helping drivers enjoy the lowest possible rates on auto insurance throughout Alberta. As a service-oriented company with multiple industry partnerships, we are able to provide highly competitive rates and value-added customer service. Contact us at our Calgary, Banff, Edmonton, or greater Alberta offices.