Gardaí have put a halt to a hi-tech crime gang stealing cars by remote control following a surge in this type of theft.
Officers from the stolen motor vehicle unit in the Garda national bureau of criminal investigation have been targeting the gang since an increase last year in the number of vehicles being taken by redirecting the electronic signal from a key fob in the owner's house.
This led to gardaí issuing a warning to motorists with modern keyless entry cars to be extra vigilant and take several security precautions.
Officers made a breakthrough earlier this year when they seized a reading device used by the criminals during an operation in Dublin. A man was arrested and questioned about the device.
Further inquiries are now being carried out as gardaí widen their investigation. The seized device has also been analysed and forensically examined.
Gardaí reckon that similar devices remain in the hands of criminals.
The majority of the keyless thefts have taken place at properties in Co Dublin and Co Kildare, with Nissan, BMW and Toyota models selected as the targets of choice for the criminals.
But since the seizure, figures show there have been no remote-control thefts of these models for the past four months.
A senior Garda officer said it was likely the Covid-19 lockdown had played a part in the falloff in the thefts but they believed the seizure and arrest were significant moves in their investigation.
A total of 139 vehicles were stolen nationwide in a nine-month period in 2019, through the use of redirected signals.
Criminals use the device to redirect the wireless signal from the key fob, stored inside the house at night, to the vehicle.
This allows them to start the vehicle and make their getaway. Research has shown that some keyless models can be stolen within 10 seconds.
The technology, which allows motorists to unlock their car without pressing a button, is intended to work only when the fob is within two metres of the vehicle.
However, these devices are capable of relaying a signal between the fob and the vehicle, even if the car is parked 100 metres away.
Motoring experts say two criminals working together are able to trick the technology, with one standing close to the home and the other near the vehicle and using an amplifier to boost the signal.