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County lines car thefts: Police chief says gangs target youngsters to steal luxury vehicles  

Keyless car technology has led to a 'dramatic' increase in vehicle crime

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Car theft gangs are using county lines recruitment tactics to groom youngsters into stealing high-value vehicles, a police chief has said.

Dave Thompson, Chief Constable for West Midlands Police, said cars are now easier than ever to steal because keyless  technology has led to a "dramatic" increase in vehicle crime.

Criminals are turning to "exactly the same" strategies as those employed by county lines gangs to encourage children and teenagers to work for them, such as offering to buy food for their family, said Mr Thompson. 

"In vehicle crime, we’re seeing a phenomenon like county lines where young people are being commissioned to steal vehicles of certain types,” he told The Telegraph.

“We see that phenomenon where they've been asked to do it, they’re rewarded in a very similar way, they're groomed - people have offered to do the shopping for their mum.”

Mr Thompson said children and teenagers are easy to recruit for this kind of crime because they "like the thrill of taking the car".

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appCounty lines gangs use a range of tactics to lure new recruits, such as buying them expensive trainers, clothes and accessories, as well as giving them drugs. 

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appCase workers at Catch22, a nationwide social enterprise that offers support to young offenders, said they had seen an increase in youths being groomed for car theft.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appRaymond Reid, who works for the organisation’s child criminal exploitation service, said: "We are seeing a rise in the number of young people being exploited to commit car theft. Vulnerable, impressionable young people are groomed with sums of cash and attention."

Mr Reid said that while organised criminals make large sums of money from these operations, they have "no regard for the impact this exploitation has on the young person".

More luxury cars on the road

Over the past six years, the number of stolen cars has risen by almost 60 per cent, from 75,308 a year in 2013-14 to 119,728 last year.

Prior to that, car theft had been in decline for a decade. Between 2002-3 and 2013-14, thefts fell by more than 75 per cent, according to Home Office data.

Mr Thompson said: “Cars worth huge amounts of money are now easier to steal than they ever were because of electronic security issues.

“The market for disposal of goods and parts is easy on the internet. Your ability to have a national marketplace for local criminals for some types of offences has changed now.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council warned earlier this month that cash-only car sales at auctions are being used by organised crime gangs to fuel a surge in vehicle theft and should be banned.

Mr Thompson also said there are more high-end cars on the road now than they used to be, due to the rapid expansion of car finance where payments are made in instalments rather than upfront.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appMore than nine in 10 new cars were bought on some type of financing in 2018-19, a 209 per cent rise over the past decade - while finance for used cars is up by 178 per cent.

How "relay crime" helps thieves get ahead of technology

Mr Thompson said: "Relay crime is where they’ll stand outside your house and scan for your key, take the signal and convert it on to something with which they can open the car straight away and drive off, so there’s no need to physically get in the house.

"Vehicles went through a phase where technology was actually ahead of the thief. In quite a lot of high-end cars, the technology now lags behind things thieves have got, so cars have become quite easy to steal again."

Automobile experts warned that the increase in car crime has been partly fuelled by cuts to police numbers.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appSimon Williams, a spokesman for RAC Insurance, said police are "losing the battle" against thefts.

He said it was "very worrying" for drivers that criminal organisations are learning recruitment techniques from county lines drugs gangs in order to steal cars.

Luke Bosdet, a spokesman for the AA, said criminal gangs favour having children carry out car theft because it "helps remove the ringleader from the actual activity".

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appHe said: "With a new generation of car security, you are going to get a new generation of car thieves who are trying to find a way round it. The street is a laboratory for criminals.

"However, we should not forget that the most straightforward way of stealing a car is to steal the keys.”

This can happen through a range of methods, including burglary or "frosting", where a car is stolen while on the driveway heating up in the cold weather.

"Car owners can also be ambushed," said Mr Bosdet. "Criminals may sit in a car park and wait for a certain vehicle they are interested in and then follow the driver home before pouncing."

County lines car thefts: Police chief says gangs target youngsters to steal luxury vehicles