Thieves armed with remote-control jammers are making a killing stealing from parked cars at Durban shopping centres leaving no trace of their crime other than missing belongings when owners return to their vehicles.
The insurance industry and police have noticed an increase in such thefts, with the South African Insurance Association (SAIA) saying that it was now the second most common way of stealing from a car.
“The remote jamming syndicates are in operation all over the province,” a police source told the Daily News.
“With the festive season around the corner, this problem is expected to increase.”
Remote jammers, which prevent a car from being locked by the driver, enabled thieves to get into a vehicle and make off with valuables in under 20 seconds.
Kwanele Sibanda, SAIA communications manager, said that such thefts had increased, and were reflected in the latest crime statistics:
“The 2011/2012 SAPS Crime Report revealed a 4.8 percent increase in theft out of or from motor vehicles and research indicates that the remote jamming scam has become the second most commonly used method to commit this crime.”
Jammers were used for half of the 30 reported incidents of theft from motor vehicles at shopping centres in the Durban North, Point and Berea areas in the past month, the source said.
“Theft out of motor vehicles is easy cash for criminals. They are looking for laptops, sunglasses or any valuables they can sell for quick cash. It is becoming a problem. People should refrain from leaving valuables in their cars.”
Sibanda said the problem arose when the household remote-control devices which currently use the same radio frequency as cars, like those used for gates and garage doors, were used to block the signal of most motor vehicle remote-control devices.
“Icasa and other radio frequency controlling bodies worldwide have allocated another frequency band to be used for motor vehicles. Although this will effectively stop the blocking of the signal with a garage or gate remote-control device, it will not stop blocking the signal with a similar remote-control device,” he said.
There were also “professional” jamming devices that can block the signal of remote-control devices that use a range of radio frequencies and technologies, he said.
The number of incidents was of concern for insurers as they resulted in theft of the vehicle’s contents and the vehicle itself, he said.
Over the past 10 years the industry had worked with police and anti-crime initiatives, which had seen a 60 percent reduction in vehicle theft claims over the past 10 years.
“As an industry, we would hate to see a return to those figures,” Sibanda said.
Police spokesman, Colonel Vincent Mdunge, said they were aware of the incidents.
He said the launch of the police festive crime fighting plan on Saturday would be a strong deterrent to criminals.
“We will be out in numbers, including shopping centres,” he said.