Savvy car thieves harnessing new technology


Many foreigners are surprised, when they first arrive in Japan, to see how well cars' exteriors are maintained. Call it pride of ownership or something else, but when walking the streets, it's quite rare to catch a glimpse of a rusting, beat-up jalopy.

Unfortunately, this may also be one of the factors that makes the country a haven for car thieves. According to data from the National Police Agency, last year, some 14,000 motor vehicles were reported stolen.

According to the Car Moby website, the models most favored by discriminating thieves (all Toyotas) were, in descending order, the Prius, accounting for 19.9% of all models stolen; Hi Ace van (10%); the Land Cruiser (7.4%); Aqua (5.8%); and Crown (4.8%). An overwhelming number of stolen vehicles have employed electronic keys.

Despite adoption of electronic systems, car thieves keep coming up with new techniques, and Nikkan Gendai (Aug 11) advised that especially during the summer and autumn months, the season for embarking on motor trips, car owners need to be cautious.

Even models that utilize electronic keys can be stolen by use of a so-called key programmer, which can be easily made by modifying easily available materials.

Earlier this year, police in Ibaraki Prefecture arrested a gang of car thieves using such a device, which is small enough to fit in the palm of one's hand.

"A modified key programmer is used to enter the car's internal computer, and then rewrite the program, making it possible to start the engine," a police investigator was quoted as saying. "In the past this required 30 minutes or longer to accomplish, but the newer types can do it in about 10 minutes. The thieves are able to obtain key programmers made in China for around 100,000 yen."

The modified key programmers are unable to open a car's door, and up to now the thieves had to break a window to get access to the vehicle's interior. More recently, however, new techniques for popping open care doors have become widespread.

"Using the technique of 'dempa-jack' (electronic hijacking), they can release the door locks from a distance," a staff member of Protector, a firm that specializes in car security, tells the tabloid. "They do this by intercepting electronic signals emitted by the car and copying them, then transmitting them back. This method is common overseas and recently has started to be used in Japan."

"It's difficult for some car owners to understand they should seek other anti-theft methods," Protector's staff member continues. "We advise them to attach audible alarms and other devices. Since the thieves are pros, they will not 'cross a dangerous bridge' (i.e., not take undue risks). They'll normally avoid attempting to steal cars equipped with anti-theft devices. So that's the best way to go."

Heed this advisory and don't let a car thief spoil your vacation, Nikkan Gendai urges.

© Japan Today

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So I am guessing that most cars are stolen while you are on vacation? Let the air out of two tires when you leave your car behind.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Pride is not the only reason we don't see rust buckets. The inspection system here will not allow it. Example, I had to remove left and right side chrome (about 1mm per piece) decorative pieces because it made the car wider than permitted by law.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

And I thought the Toyota dealer was scaremongering. Glad we got our ugly (dashtop flasher) alarm fitted.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I wonder what percentage of Japan's stolen cars wind up in foreign countries. Stolen car smuggling used to be big business in Hong Kong but I haven't read anything on the subject lately.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I never would have guessed number one would be the Prius. Demand for the overseas must be very high.

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How do the thieves get it out of Japan?

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How do the thieves get it out of Japan?

I suppose they produce phoney bills of sale and bills of lading, or bribe officials at small ports in Niigata or Fukui to look the other way. Perhaps they also swap the plates and registration papers for the stolen car with the same model of a legitimate owner. Unless the engine or chassis numbers are checked, who's going to know the difference?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Chassis numbers are checked by customs when a car leaves the country. That is, unless the car has been packed in a container by a bonded exporter, or the car has been chopped up into parts.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Well I guess that's another good reason for having a "manual" Toyota ! On top of which, the water spout where I used to attach the hose is broken - so my car hasn't been washed in quite a while... Guess I don't have too much to worry about !

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Good article.

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it’s quite rare to catch a glimpse of a rusting, beat-up jalopy

The best thief deterrent there is!

I got one. Looks crap but everything works, it runs well and I don't even bother to lock it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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