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Gadgets being used to stop the theft of Polos and Hiluxes in South Africa

Thieves in South Africa are increasingly taking advantage of the keyless entry and start systems found in modern cars to steal them without needing the key itself, but there is a way to counteract this trend.

Motorists in South Africa are buying dveices known as “ghost anti-theft devices,” which add an extra layer of security to a car’s startup, making it significantly harder to steal.

How cars are being stolen

Most cars these days offer a keyless entry and start system that replaces the need to dig a key out of your pocket, press a button to unlock the door, and turn the ignition, making the entire process much more seamless.

However, these keyless entry fobs require the car to constantly transmit a signal in order to detect when the owner is approaching, and criminals can hijack this signal with devices found on the black market.

Often, thieves working in pairs will capture the fob’s signal and then use a transponder to relay it to the car, which can then be used to unlock and start it, according to MyBroadband.

The security company Tracker’s most recent data shows that there was a huge increase in car theft in the latter half of 2023, which correlates with similar findings from Fidelity ADT and the South African Police Services (SAPS).

The cars most commonly targeted by criminal syndicates include the following, all of which have keyless entry as an option:

  • VW Polo
  • Ford Ranger
  • Nissan NP200
  • Toyota RAV 4
  • Toyota Corolla Cross
  • Toyota Hilux
  • Toyota Fortuner

These syndicates can often be quite advanced and can remove a car’s tracker in minutes, which is why certain insurers will now mandate that high-risk vehicles be fitted with multiple trackers.

Military-grade car key signal jammers confiscated from suspected thieves

What you can do to prevent it

Ghost anti-theft devices are a type of modified immobilizer that prevent people from driving away in a car unless a code is entered or a linked smartphone is detected nearby.

These devices allow the car to start but will switch it off once put in gear, which is intended to confuse would-be thieves.

In order to drive away, the user must first input a code in the form of a sequence of button presses in their vehicle in order to unlock it. Depending on the system, this code could be as many as 20 presses long.

Certain ghost devices also have a proximity lock that puts the car into a driveable state when an authorized device is detected such as a linked smartphone.

Alternatively, you can use a more physical solution such as HaltLock which connects to the car’s drivetrain and prevents any car, whether old or new, from moving at all.

The lock itself is deactivated using a separate remote or a smartphone app controlled by an authenticated user.

Furthermore, if the car is hijacked, the owner can engage the lock remotely which will kick in the next time the car’s speed drops below 3km/h while also disabling the standard fob.

Another benefit is that it operates separately from the car’s ECU, meaning physical removal is the only way to get rid of it, and it has a built-in tracker to ensure its recovery in the event of theft.

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