Rolls-Royce and Bentleys targeted by gang as luxury cars stolen on industrial scale

Technology relays the key signal from inside owners’ homes to unlock and drive off with the vehicles in minutes

Watch as gang steals Bentley after hijacking key signal from inside owner's home

Watch as gang steals Bentley after hijacking key signal from inside owner's home
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A criminal gang used a 'master' gadget, which can hijack the signal needed to open and start a car, to steal dozens of luxury vehicles in a crime wave that swept some of the UK's most affluent areas.

The four men stole 53 cars, worth a total of £3.7 million ($4.7 million), using technology that copies and transmits the signal from a key inside an owner's home and their vehicle outside.

Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Land Rover and Range Rover models were among the cars stolen in the year-long spree from addresses across the south-east of England.

Police said they have built a picture of how the gang gained entry to the cars using the so-called relay attack.

Typically, two devices are used: one near the car and the other near the house, where the key fob is stored. The signal is detected, copied and relayed between the fob and the car's computer, allowing it to be driven away.

The relay method

In footage released by police, two men wearing balaclavas can be seen standing in the driveway of a house, with one holding a receiver high in the air and the other clutching the device. They run away once the signal has been detected.

Another masked man holding the second device is around the side of the house where the owner's Bentley is parked.

The car's lights can be seen flashing as it unlocks.

The man jumps in, reversing the vehicle through the wooden gate and crashing into a tree while making a getaway.

Gang caught

Perry Lovejoy, 29; Luke Jackson, 28; Billy Harrison, 30; and Harry Sales, 28, received sentences of between three and three and a half years in prison for the thefts at Guildford Crown Court.

A manual for a relay device was found saved on a mobile phone seized from Lovejoy.

Officers arrested the men in April 2023 after building a picture of their activities using intelligence, forensics, witness testimony and other sources.

Investigating officer, Detective Constable Matt Earl of Surrey Police, said: “The level of criminality that these four people undertook was significant and had a huge financial impact. These men acted out of pure greed and had no regard for how their crimes may affect the lives of their victims.

“We are glad that these criminals have been successfully brought to justice and will now have lots of time to think about their actions while sitting in prison.”

Reports suggest the devices can be bought for as little as £100.

Experts said car owners can protect against relay thefts by blocking key signals by keeping the key in a specially designed wallet, or the fridge, which can also shield against attacks.

Keyless car thefts

Data shows keyless entry is now the most popular method criminals use to steal cars, accounting for 36 per cent of all thefts in 2020, the latest available data.

That was up from only 13 per cent in 2019, when thefts involving a key fob were the most common method, accounting for 33 per cent of stolen vehicles. That year, 20 per cent of thefts involved forcing a lock, while 18 per cent resulted from a broken window, both methods of which were less common the following year, at 14 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively.

Land Rovers targeted

Statistics from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) suggested about one in every 100 Land Rovers in circulation was stolen in the year ending March 2023.

Data indicated Land Rovers were three times more likely to be stolen than the second most popular target for thieves, Mercedes-Benz.

Among the 896,948 licensed Land Rovers in the UK, 8,284 were reported as stolen during the period, equating to 924 thefts for every 100,000.

Six of the top 10 most stolen models are made by Land Rover, with the Range Rover Velar R-Dyn found to be the most targeted.

The vehicle’s increasing popularity among thieves means it is now reportedly becoming impossible to insure them in some areas of London. One investigation by The Independent from October 2023 found only two providers offered to insure the car for less than £20,000 a year to a 35-year-old woman living in Zone 4 with six years’ driving experience and no claims.

Manufacturers fight back

Manufacturers have been working to protect cars from relay attacks.

In 2019, Ford enhanced keyless entry technology in new Fiesta and Focus models to make them harder to steal by triggering sleep mode after a key has been stationary for longer than 40 seconds. While it is in sleep mode the key does not respond to any attempts to hack the signal. Picking up the key and carrying it around restores functionality.

Late last year, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) announced it was contacting thousands of its customers to upgrade their cars with improved security, in a bid to stem the epidemic of Range Rover thefts.

JLR, which is a subsidiary of the Indian car maker Tata Motors, planned to update the security systems of a variety of Land Rover and Jaguar models made between 2018 to 2022.

“JLR vehicles from 2022 onwards – Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, Defender, Jaguar F Pace – are equipped with the latest security features and are proving very resilient to theft,” a JLR official said.

“We are continuing to roll out a programme to enhance the security of models from 2018 onwards and already tens of thousands of eligible vehicles have received software updates via their retailer, to provide the latest vehicle security."

It is believed the upgrades involve making the codes and frequencies less hackable but JLR is reluctant to share details.

Car thefts fall

Vehicle-related thefts have fallen in recent years, to 400,000 in 2023 from a high of more than 4.3 million in 1993 – as those involving physical methods like broken windows, locks and forced doors become less common. Yet the targeting of higher end vehicles has raised the costs of driving.

UK car insurance has soared in recent years, rising by more than a third since 2020, largely driven by rises in costs of repairs due to inflation.

The average price of insurance for Range Rovers ranges from £1,126 for a Sport HSE TD6 to more than £2,547 for a Sport HSE Dynamic SDV6 306.

Updated: March 15, 2024, 11:54 AM