Irish drivers face the threat of higher motor insurance costs after a sharp rise in the number of stolen cars, with organised crime gangs using sophisticated technology for ‘ghost thefts’ of luxury motors destined for the Russian black market.
There has been an alarming 77pc increase in the number of car robberies this year.
Gardaí insisted that “a significant portion of this increase is related to thefts of second- hand imported vehicles and the theft of electric scooters”.
A large number of thefts have involved older, imported Japanese cars which lack engine immobiliser security systems.
Experts are alarmed at the number of thefts which have targeted luxury motors and which used cutting-edge technology to defeat sophisticated car security systems.
Several thefts of high-value luxury vehicles used technology never before seen in Ireland – and are considered by motor industry officials to pose a serious challenge to manufacturers and gardaí.
It is also feared that gangs are now using ‘spotters’ to identify luxury vehicles which match orders from black-market dealers in Eastern Europe.
Gang members are using Covid-19 face masks to defeat CCTV security camera systems at car parks. Gangs are working with Armagh-based criminals to process stolen cars through Northern Ireland.
Some vehicles are shipped intact to Eastern Europe while others are broken up at secret ‘chop shops’ and exported for parts.
Demand for stolen luxury vehicles has soared in Russia amid fears that sanctions over the Ukraine invasion could affect motor imports and the supply of car parts.
In Dublin, a luxury Mercedes was stolen just minutes after it was parked by its owner, with a specially fitted GPS tracking system disabled just minutes later. One garda source described the theft as demonstrating that criminals “have access to sophisticated technology and… know precisely what they are doing”.
While one luxury car was taken from a long-term airport parking area on July 22, gardaí do not believe car parks are being specifically targeted.
“An Garda Síochána has not identified a wider trend or increase in the targeting of theft of high-value vehicles being stolen from airports or industrial estates.”
However, the number of thefts involving luxury vehicles has soared over 2021. In one case, a €150,000 SUV was stolen from an Irish car park, with the thieves not believed to have any access to its keys.
It is feared the thieves either used high-tech scanning equipment to ‘hijack’ the key signal as the owner locked the SUV, or deployed a laptop fitted with hacking technology to defeat the sophisticated lock and alarm mechanisms.
In west Cork, a BMW was the focus of a ‘ghost theft’ but, by a stroke of good luck, the vehicle was recovered in Louth before it could reach a ‘chop shop’.
Garda concerns over the involvement of Northern Ireland-based criminals has resulted in close liaison with the PSNI.
The PSNI last month publicly warned motorists to be aware of car thefts using advanced wireless technology.
Across Northern Ireland, 35 cars were stolen using wireless technology in the space of just 11 months.
Gardaí are also investigating whether eastern European gangs are directly collaborating with Irish criminals as part of the steal-to-order system.
A Garda operation was hugely successful a number of years ago after an eastern European/Baltic states gang targeted marine equipment including outboard engines at Irish ports and marinas.
One car industry expert – who asked to remain anonymous – warned the scale of the thefts and resultant claims will inevitably affect motor insurance costs from 2023.
“You simply cannot have this level of theft without knock-on consequences. Particularly when you are dealing with some unrecovered vehicles that are worth €100,000 and more,” they said.
“If you have a 70pc-plus increase in vehicle thefts, it is eventually going to hit motor insurance premium costs. Car thefts don’t have the same cost-impact as personal injury claims but they have an impact nonetheless.
“Increased risk means increased premium costs – and that is particularly true for people living in areas where the greatest number of car thefts are being reported.”
Compounding the problem is the fact that recovery rates for stolen vehicles have fallen since before the pandemic.
In 2018, detection and stolen vehicle recovery rates for some Garda divisions were four times higher than the current recovery rates.
In the first quarter of 2022, Ireland recorded almost 1,200 reported incidents of car thefts or the unauthorised taking of vehicles.
That is almost an 80pc increase in the level for the first three months of 2021.
Statistics seen by the Irish Independent revealed that, in the first quarter of this year, almost seven in every 10 vehicle thefts involved a private car. The bulk of thefts occur at or near a person’s home.
Over the past 12 months there has also been a significant increase in the theft of e-scooters and motorcycles.