'Burglary tourist' jailed after travelling to UK to steal keyless cars

Moldovan ‘burglary tourist’ is jailed for ten months after travelling to the UK to steal luxury keyless cars including £37,000 BMW using high-tech amplifying signal device

  • Vadim Muntean, 31, and accomplice Semion Lazur, 28, were equipped for theft
  • A rucksack containing an amplifying signal device was seized from Muntean
  • The arrests took place on October 30 last year in village of Woodford, Cheshire
  • Muntean was jailed for ten months and Lazur for eight months at court today

A Moldovan ‘burglary tourist’ was jailed for ten months after travelling to the UK to steal luxury keyless cars, including a £37,000 BMW, using high-tech devices.

Vadim Muntean, 31, was arrested at the wheel of his Mazda after a policeman patrolling an affluent suburb in Cheshire following a spate of burglaries saw him and an accomplice in the area.

The officer seized a rucksack from Muntean which contained an amplifying signal device which can help users steal cars without keys, a tracker jamming device so the vehicle cannot be tracked once stolen plus a GPS system.

Two relay boxes, pictured. The larger white box and smaller blue box work together, showing a real-time communication between the two when both lights are live (file photo)

His phone was also found to contain messages identifying several vehicles and their registration numbers including a BMW worth £37,000.

Further inquiries revealed Muntean had arrived in the UK a week before the incident and it is thought he was planning to return to his native Moldova following the vehicle thefts.

At Minshull Street Crown Court, Manchester, Muntean was jailed for ten months and his accomplice Semion Lazur, 28, who lives in a serviced apartment in Crumpsall was locked up for eight months after both admitted being equipped for theft. Both face being deported following their release.

The arrests occurred on October 30 last year after the pair were spotted loitering in a cul-de-sac in the upmarket suburban village of Woodford.

Keyless cars are targeted by tech-savvy criminals who can gain access in as little as 20 seconds. Graphic illustrates two thieves using relay boxes to unlock a vehicle (file photo)

Prosecutor Julian King said: ‘An officer had been on mobile patrol in an affluent housing estate where houses are expensive and where expensive cars are parked along the residential driveways.

‘An officer saw a blue Mazda and spoke to the occupants. Mr Lazur was in the front passengers seat and Mr Muntean was driving.

What is an amplifying signal device?

An amplifier device can increase the power of a signal. 

It works by picking up the low frequency wireless signal that locked cars regularly emit to detect when their owner’s fob is near.

The device re-transmits that signal at a higher frequency through a separate laptop-sized device, which can send it across much longer distances. 

That allows the laptop-sized device to silently connect with the actual key fob, creating a long-distance bridge that connects it to the car. 

The real fob then replies to a series of challenge/response security messages to verify its authenticity, and then the car unlocks. 

‘The officer asked what they were doing and they said they had come to see a mate. They appeared to be agitated and the officer told Mr Muntean to switch the ignition off.

‘The officer then opened a rucksack and found the devices at which they appeared even more agitated and were arrested. 

‘Mr Muntean’s phone contained messages identifying several vehicles registration numbers including a BMW worth £37,000.

‘When arrested they both denied wrongdoing at interview. Mr Lazure said he had settled in the UK in 2016 and Mr Muntean said he had arrived just a week before the incident. 

‘He claimed Mr Lazure told him to drive to the estate and that he didn’t know what was in the rucksack. He denied being involved in attempted burglary and said he had been visiting a friend.

‘Neither have previous convictions in the UK or abroad.’

In mitigation for Muntean, defence lawyer James Preece said: ‘He asks me to say he is really sorry for the offending and is remorseful.’

Passing sentence, Judge John Potter said: ‘You were both on a housing estate planning a serious of burglaries and thefts of motor vehicles.

‘As a consequence police started a surveillance operation on the estate. In the early hours a police officer was on the estate conducting observations. 

‘He saw a blue Mazda and was suspicious of the manner in which it was being driven. He stopped it and asked you both a succession of questions to which you both provided untruthful answers and appeared agitated.

How does a tracker jamming device work? 

Jammers have numerous antennas that can jam mobile phone signals, as well as GPS signals.

Different antennas are used for different bands of frequencies to be jammed.

They can intercept tracking systems used to detect stolen vehicles.

Low cost jammers can be vehicle mounted or via an extra power socket, or powered with a rechargeable battery.

Source: SENTINEL report 

‘They then searched the vehicle and found a rucksack, and in it there was a relay system and signal blocker used for the theft of high-performance cars. 

‘They also found your phones and an examination of them revealed suspicious activity by both of you suggesting you were trying to steal cars.

‘The cars being targeted were fitted with tracking systems which the items in the rucksack were designed to block. 

‘You planned to go to this housing estate, choose a high-performance motor vehicle and use the equipment to steal it, no doubt for significant financial gain.

‘This is serious dishonest behaviour with the potential to cause serious harm to the car owners you would have stolen from. 

‘At police interview you both told the police a pack of lies.

‘There was high culpability as you were acting together, and there was sophistication and a degree of planning. The prison will liaise with the Home Office and you may be deported upon release if you do not have the right to remain here.’

How do thieves steal your car without the keys? The hi-tech ‘relay’ gadget that uses signals to unlock vehicles parked outside homes

What is relay theft? 

Relay theft occurs when two thieves work together to break into cars which have keyless entry systems.

The thieves can use equipment to capture signals emitted by certain keys which are used to start new vehicles.

One thief stands by the car with a transmitter, while the other stands by the house with another, which picks up the signal from the key which is usually kept near the front door on a table or hook.

This is then relayed to the other transmitter by the vehicle, causing it to think the key is in close proximity and prompting it to open. Thieves can then drive the vehicle away and quickly replace the locks and entry devices.

Technically, any vehicle with keyless entry could be vulnerable to relay theft. 

These included cars from BMW, Ford, Audi, Land Rover, Hyundai, Volkswagen and Mercedes cars.

How can you protect your vehicle against relay theft?

According to research by the Institute of the Motor Industry, over half of motorists are worried their car could be accessed and stolen by remote thieves.

Fifty per cent of people surveyed weren’t aware that their car might be vulnerable to cyber attacks, and while drivers shouldn’t become paranoid about the safety of their car it’s always a good idea to take precautions.

This has long been a necessary precaution in order to avoid car theft, but it’s important to make sure that your key is as far from the front door as possible so its signal can’t be picked up.

As hacking devices get more sophisticated, they may be able to pick up signals from further away.

This may seem a bit excessive, but a metal box could be the best place to store your keys overnight as the metal could block the signal being detected.

Lorna Connelly, head of claims at Admiral, said: ‘Unfortunately, we do see a claims from customers who have had their cars stolen due to relay theft and it’s a problem that we would advise motorists with keyless cars to be aware of.

‘Despite progresses in anti-theft technology, thieves are always coming up with new ways to make off with your vehicle.

‘We are urging all of our customers to keep their keys a safe distance from the door and consider storing them in a metal box. While this may seem like an extreme solution, relay theft is an extreme practice.’

SOURCE: Admiral

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