Car theft: Watch out for electronic key cloning!

Une femme se dirige vers une voiture

Late one night, you hear a sound that wakes you from your slumber. What could it be? One look out your window and you know. Your car is no longer where you parked it! How is this possible? You’re sure you locked your doors.

Surprise! Cloning your electronic key is now child’s play for thieves. So how can you protect your car from this type of theft? And does your car insurance cover you in this situation? Let’s find out.

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), a car is stolen approximately every 6 minutes in this country. In the last few years, electronic car thefts have spiked significantly.

How do thieves operate?

Armed with specialized software and mobile devices, thieves can strike in less than a minute. They even manage to sidestep integrated anti-theft devices.

It's simple. Your electronic key is in constant communication with the computer in your car. Using a scanner, thieves set up outside your home and capture the signals emitted by your key. They then create a copy of it in just a few seconds, unlock your car door and start the engine.

In some cases, they break into the car to plug a device in the universal OBD (on-board diagnostics) socket. They can then access the code for your key and clone it. Stolen cars are then sold for parts, resold, exported or used in other crimes.

How to protect your car

Each year, the IBC publishes its list of the top 10 most stolen vehicles. Most of the targeted cars (usually 4-years-old or less) use smart keys or a remote car starter.

If your vehicle is a favourite of thieves, install a satellite tracking anti-theft system. It will be easier to locate your car after it’s stolen.

You can also carry an OBD protector. It’s a very solid cap that blocks access to the OBD socket.

There are other ways to reduce the risk of theft, including:

  • Don’t leave your vehicle unsupervised until you close all the windows and remove the key from the ignition. It’s the law in Quebec! If you don’t, you can be fined from $60-$120 plus administrative fees.
  • Have major parts engraved, such as the catalytic converters, engine, tires, lights and windshield.
  • Keep your electronic key far from your front door and windows.
  • Purchase an anti-theft box or sleeve that blocks external electronic fields. A metal box wrapped in tin foil does the trick, too.
  • Use a steering wheel lock. This time-tested device will discourage many would-be thieves.
  • Park in a busy or well-lit area.
  • Don’t leave valuable objects inside the vehicle. Hide them in the trunk.
  • Put on the emergency brake. It will make towing your car away much more difficult for the thieves. Why make their life easy?

What about insurance?

It all depends on your insurance policy. To protect your car from theft, your contract must include the All perils or All perils other than collision or upset coverage (Section B of the contract). Your insurance advisor can help you determine the coverage that best suits your needs.

Did you know?

If your car is stolen, your auto insurance can reimburse you for permanently fastened objects like a booster seat or GPS.

But it’s your home insurance that will reimburse you for property you can carry, such as sunglasses, a laptop or suitcases.

What to do if your car is stolen

First, contact the local police to get a stolen vehicle report. You will need to present the report number for the insurance claim. Then, call your insurer and submit your claim. Note that before you are reimbursed, most insurers will wait 30 days to give the police a chance to locate the vehicle.

So basically, carjackers have adapted their methods to the latest technologies. And it’s a very lucrative business. The days when hustlers hot wired cars are long gone. Cloning your electronic key is now as easy as 1-2-3. So it’s up to you to insure your car accordingly. It doesn’t just happen to others...

The risk of theft doesn’t end with cars! To better prevent it, also learn about identity theft.