Invasion of the ‘car key’ snatchers

Car keys are set to be one of the most sought after items for criminals in 2009, as a new study1 reveals that 90 per cent of high value2 car thefts in 2008 involved the use of the original keys to steal the car. Nine in ten of these thefts also involved the keys being stolen directly from the owner or their home.

The car industry’s use of immobilisers and factory-fitted security may be cutting the absolute number of cars stolen, but an analysis of 1.3m policyholders’ claims during 20081 by esure car insurance shows that this may have led to an increased risk to individuals and their homes as they become the subjects of car key crime.

According to esure’s figures, 81 per cent of all high value car theft2 occurred as a result of criminals acquiring stolen car keys through burglaries from the policyholders’ homes, car jackings or assaults. The remaining nine per cent involved either the theft of keys from gym lockers, ‘owner close by’ thefts where cars are stolen with the keys in the ignition but the owner is close by (i.e. petrol stations and newsagents) or the unauthorised taking of keys by family members.

Gordon Hannah, Head of Claims at esure car insurance, said: “It is especially alarming that thieves who used to target cars directly are now resorting to the much more sinister crime of seizing keys directly from the owners or their homes by forcible means.

Hot wiring a car has largely become a thing of the past but while improved security is cutting the overall number of car thefts, it is also shifting the threat to individuals. This is why it’s essential never to flaunt car keys and to keep them secured and out of reach of criminal hands at home or when out and about.”

esure tips on avoiding car key theft:

Never leave your car keys visible in your hallway: It is too easy for a thief to see them through the letterbox and then decide to break in or use a ‘hook and cane’.
Never leave your keys in the ignition when buying petrol, opening the boot or popping into a shop: An opportunistic thief can easily drive an unlocked car away so long as the keys are there.
Never hang up your jacket with the car keys in it: Keep them on your person and out of view at all times - whether you’re at work or in a public place.
Be careful with your car keys at the gym: Thieves have been known to follow car owners into a gym and then target their locker. Hand them to a member of staff, use a gym with CCTV, or just keep them with you at all times rather than in your locker. Consider a neck chain, put them in a zipped pocket, or buy a waterproof case for them if you’re using the swimming pool.
During winter months, never leave a car engine running to ‘defrost’ it: This is one of the most common causes of car theft using the original keys.
If you have a garage - use it: Consider clearing out your garage to use for your vehicle rather than storage space to draw less attention to your car from passing thieves.
Bolster your home security measures: With more car keys being stolen as a result of break-ins, consider reviewing your home security to include: a burglar alarm, window locks, a bolted-down domestic safe, and light timers.
Drive with your doors locked: to reduce your risk of being a victim of a car jacking incident, keep all of your doors locked when driving your vehicle - especially when in slow moving traffic or town driving.
Carry your car keys securely: Don’t carry your car keys in a trouser pocket. Use a zipped jacket pocket or a neck chain. If using a handbag, put keys on an inside key clip if possible, zip or fasten your bag securely at all times, and a carry it close to your body using a diagonal strap if possible.

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