Got an SUV or truck with a key fob? It’s more likely to be stolen, Insurance Bureau of Canada says

Newer SUVs and trucks with key fobs top the list of the most often stolen vehicles in Canada, the Insurance Bureau of Canada said Wednesday.

The group that represents insurance companies across the country said theft from your own driveway using widely available electronic tools is on the rise across the country, as thieves respond to demand from high-end buyers overseas and street racers here at home.

The four-door 2018 Honda CRV with all-wheel drive holds the ignominious title of being the most stolen vehicle in Canada this year, with 350 thefts reported by insurers across the country — nearly one per day. When the 2017 and 2019 models are included in the tally, there were 758 stolen — that’s more than two per day.

Here’s the rest of the list:

There is wide variety across the country, too. In Alberta, all of the most-stolen vehicles are versions of pickup trucks: F150s and F350s from Ford, and Dodge Rams.

“These trucks are attractive to thieves, and oil and gas companies have used them almost exclusively, which has brought a disproportionately high amount of them to the province,” the IBC said.

In Ontario, however, the list is mostly high-end SUVs from Toyota, Honda and Lexus. Some of those get sold abroad, but many are chopped up for parts, the IBC said.

Atlantic Canada had a mix of both, with popular sedans such as the Honda Accord and Chevrolet Cruz mixed in. The most stolen vehicle in Atlantic Canada was the Chevrolet Silverado, which is typically targeted for export by criminal groups.

Drivers often worry about something like their window being smashed and their car being stolen that way. But cheap and plentiful tech tools make it far easier to steal a car today.

Bryan Gast, national director of investigative services at IBC, said in an interview with CBC News that the biggest trend he’s seeing this year is what’s known as a “relay attack.”

“That means they’re acquiring your signal from your key fob, cloning your key fob and [then] have the ability to start your vehicle without ever having the original key fob,” he said.

“It’s as simple as walking to your front door, seeing if they’re able to capture a signal of a key fob that might be inside. They don’t go anywhere in your house. They’re capturing it from the outside. And they have the ability to technologically clone the device and have the ability to start your car and drive off.”

New tech ‘makes it easy for the criminal’

The best tool to fight electronic theft, Gast says, is to not do what most people do — come into their house and leave their keys in a bowl or some other exposed place, just behind the front door. He recommends instead getting a metallic box for the car keys, one that blocks radio frequencies.

A suspect is seen using a radio frequency amplifier, which boosts the signal emitting from this vehicle’s fob located just inside the front door of the house.(Toronto Police Service)

“If you put it in a box, it doesn’t emit the radio frequency. Basically, it is in a protective box or a pouch and [criminals] don’t have the ability to capture that key fob signal.”

Cars manufactured since 2008 have mandated some sort of car-immobilizing technology built into them that makes the car not start unless you have the right technologically equipped key, and that has changed the trends in car theft ever since, Gast says.

“A lot of the time, as people leave the key fobs in their vehicle, that’s where they keep it. They make it easy to hop in, push the button to start and off they go. But it also makes it easy for the criminal, too.”

There’s another built-in vulnerability in something many drivers do as a precaution: when in a parking lot, they double-check their car is locked by hitting the key fob.

But a thief in the area with the right technology can clone the fob from that.

“You’re emitting that frequency, which can also be captured,” Gast said.

A lot of the most-stolen vehicles are higher-end, expensive and large cars that can be hard to acquire outside North America, which is why Gast says a big motivator for theft isn’t a criminal looking for a joy ride or to sell it locally. The thief often has a specific request for a specific vehicle and then sets about finding it.

Convenient technology is just making it easier, such that currently, a car is stolen somewhere in Canada every six minutes.

Theft on the rise in COVID

While COVID-19 has led to more cars being parked due to people working from home, it has also led to an increase in one type of car theft, Gast says. Namely, people looking for specific parts and vehicles to be used in street racing events and other reckless driving behaviour.

“The problem is stealing parts for some of these modified vehicles in the vehicles themselves,” he said. “Law enforcement definitely has their hands full.”

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