Drivers of keyless Ford Fiestas are being targeted by thieves as part of a hi-tech crime spree.
Police say crooks hack into the cars with electronic devices such as ‘relay boxes’ – which are widely available to buy on Amazon and eBay.
Although all models of keyless cars have been stolen – including luxury BMWs and Range Rovers – owners of Britain’s most popular vehicle have been among the hardest hit.
Cleveland Police said they have had 90 reports of keyless cars being stolen since December – and half of them were Fiestas, the country’s best-selling motor for the past decade.
Drivers of keyless Ford Fiestas are being targeted by thieves as part of a hi-tech crime spree
Since 2008, when the keyless technology first became available, more than a million Fiestas have been sold to Britons. Overall, more than 4.5million Fiestas have been sold since 1976.
Cleveland Police said each of the cars was stolen using a device that bypasses security systems – without thieves needing to steal keys or smash a window.
Instead, they use transmitting devices known as ‘relay boxes’ to extend the signal from the car’s keyless fob, which is usually inside the owner’s home – and use this signal to unlock and start the car.
Crooks use transmitting devices known as ‘relay boxes’ to extend the signal from the car’s keyless fob
In November, footage emerged of thieves in Solihull, West Midlands using a relay box to steal a Mercedes van and driving off without keys.
The devices are available online for around £260. Criminals also use ‘signal blocking’ gadgets to prevent drivers with keyless fobs locking vehicles in car parks.
Vehicle thefts in England and Wales have soared by almost a third in just three years, after years of decline.
The latest figures were released by 40 police forces following Freedom of Information requests by the RAC. They reveal 85,688 vehicles were stolen in 2016, up 30 per cent from 65,783 in 2013.
Police in Warwickshire reported the largest rise, up 189 per cent between 2013 and 2016.
Suggested precautions against keyless car theft include buying an old-fashioned steering wheel lock, keeping keys well away from doors and windows in a metal tin – which can block the relay boxes from working – and asking dealers for security software updates.
A Ford spokesman said: ‘Fords are sold with competitive levels of standard security equipment.’
An eBay spokesman said the firm had ‘not been advised of any restrictions on the sale of this kind of device’.