On Monday, Équité Association revealed the list of the top 10 most stolen cars in Canada, led by the Honda CR-V, and the company’s vice president of investigative services, Bryan Gast, has revealed the most common ways these vehicles are stolen.
“The most prevalent way…is the onboard diagnostic port [OBD port] that's inside all newer model vehicles,” Gast told Yahoo Canada. “What it's intended for is at the dealership, or at a service garage, to be able to plug into that and do a full diagnostic to see what the problem with the car is.”
“Where the criminals are using it, they have equipment that can also plug into that OBD port and reprogram a key fob, and now they have the means to start the car up and drive it away, never having the original key fob that the owner would have.”
In terms of how to protect yourself from this kind of theft, Gast identified that there has been some success with having an OBD port lock.
“They can break into your vehicle, but they can't plug into the port without wasting a lot of time trying to break that open,” Gast said.
The second most common way criminals are stealing cars is through a relay attack.
“A relay attack is where they're intercepting the radio frequency between the key fob and the car,” Gast explained. “The car and the key fob communicate back and forth with each other, that signal that's being emitted and transferred is what the criminals are trying to intercept.”
What you can do to protect your vehicle
In terms of trying to protect yourself from relay attacks, the key is to protect the signal.
“If you're at home, don't leave your keys or your key fob at the front, or hanging up near the door, protect it in some sort of a poach,” Gast said. “A Faraday pouch is something that prevents the signal from emitting once it's in that pouch, or a box or something that would prevent that signal from communicating back with the car.”
“What the criminals are trying to do, they're trying to extend the range and intercept that. So they will use devices that extend the range and amplify the signal. Once that key fob communicates back with a car, that's what they're intercepting.”
Gast stressed that these protections shouldn’t just be taken at home, but even when you park in public spaces, like a mall.
“You go to the mall and you can't remember if you've locked your vehicle, and you turn around and you're a long way from your vehicle,...and if you hit the lock button just to make sure that you locked it, you've just sent a signal from your key fob back to the car,” Gast explained. “If there happens to be somebody in the area that is looking to intercept signals and observed you do that, they know…your vehicle is going to be unattended, and now they've intercepted that signal, and they're able to reprogram a key fob and start your car.”
'Anything that adds a layer of protection'
Ultimately, Gast stressed that drivers really need to implement a “multilayered approach” to protection against vehicle theft.
“[Park] in a well lit area or in a garage, if you happen to have a garage,” Gast recommended. “If you don't have a garage and you have a vehicle that you think is susceptible to being stolen, park it closest to the building and then park something that's not as desirable behind it.”
“Something as simple as a steering wheel lock or a pedal lock,...anything that adds a layer of protection that a criminal would look in, see that there's multiple things they would have to defeat and time is of the essence,...they will move on, hopefully, away from your vehicle.”
“There's also aftermarket tracking device services… If it is stolen, the vehicle can be tracked to its location… If your vehicle has been stolen, don’t track it to a location by yourself, notify law enforcement of the suspicious activity and then report those locations to law enforcement.”
Be cautious of the online platforms
Additionally, these precautions should start at the buying stage of a vehicle. All drivers should do their due diligence to know about the seller and the history of the vehicle before making a purchase.
“Criminals are taking advantage of the lack of used and new vehicles that are available to consumers,” Gast explained. “So they're stealing vehicles and they're re-VINing them, which is the vehicle identification number, they’re putting a cloned VIN or a bogus VIN on that vehicle, and then selling it to unsuspecting consumers, or using it within their own crime groups.”
“We're telling people to be cautious of the online platforms... If you're buying it off some sort of an online platform and you don't know who the seller is, do your due diligence and not only who the seller is, but the history of that vehicle. Whether that's getting a Carfax report, which shows a very detailed history of the vehicle, just to see if there's any red flags that jumped out at you.”