5,000+ Luxury Vehicles Stolen Annually in Gang’s High-Tech Raids Targeting Residential Areas | FRIDAY DIGITAL

5,000+ Luxury Vehicles Stolen Annually in Gang’s High-Tech Raids Targeting Residential Areas

In no time at all, the locks are opened and the engine is started Experts teach defensive techniques

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Shortly after 1:00 a.m., a security camera caught a clown casing a residential area. The three men came down and ransacked Mr. A’s garage.
There was a separate wired surveillance camera at Mr. A’s house, but its power cord had been disconnected.
The Rancel was stolen in about five minutes, and although Mr. A had attached two steering wheel locks, they were of no use.

“When I woke up in the morning and found my car missing, I panicked. I can’t help but hate the thieves. But it’s been over two weeks, and there’s been no progress in the investigation. I feel like I have no choice but to give up.” 

Mr. A, a man in his 50s residing in Tokyo, shares these words after his beloved Land Cruiser was stolen.

According to the announcement from the National Police Agency, the number of domestic car thefts, which had been decreasing for 20 years, began to increase after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. Over 5,000 vehicles are victimized annually, with thefts of high-end vehicles like the Alphard doubling from 330 in 2022 to 700 in 2023, indicating a persistent trend of targeting luxury cars.

Mr. A fell victim to the theft around 2 a.m. in mid-February. The entire process of the crime was captured on a security camera.

Shortly after 1 a.m., a white Crown car passed by Mr. A’s house. A minute later, it reappeared with three individuals getting out, entering Mr. A’s garage. One of them carefully peers into the car through the driver’s side window. After leaving one person behind, the Crown car departed from Mr. A’s house. However, around 1:45 a.m., it returned for the third time and committed the theft.

One person stood watch while the other two disappeared into the garage. Within minutes, the engine of the Land Cruiser started, and the culprits drove away. Investigators provided further explanation.

“The burglary ring, despite showing signs of inexperience such as multiple trips to fetch tools and unnecessary movements at the scene, managed to complete the operation in less than five minutes from the start. What’s even more frightening is that, despite being relatively inexperienced, the actual time spent on the crime was less than five minutes. Additionally, Mr. A had installed Wi-Fi-connected security cameras, but crucially, they failed to record during the theft. It’s likely that the perpetrators used devices emitting jamming signals to interfere with the cameras.”

Mr. A lamented, “The wind was strong that day, and I didn’t notice any unusual noises. I loved my Land Cruiser and had customized it myself, so the shock was immense.”

The tools used in such crimes continue to evolve. At the forefront is an electronic device known as the Game Boy.

“This device can identify and replicate the radio waves emitted by a car, allowing for unlocking and engine starting. It’s the latest criminal tool in the field. It’s commonly referred to as a ‘key emulator,’ but due to its resemblance in design and size to a Game Boy, it’s nicknamed as such. While arrest cases have been reported overseas since late 2021, models compatible with Japanese cars have finally emerged,” explained the aforementioned investigator.


The “Difficulty of Countermeasures” Stands Out

“The ‘Game Boy’ was originally sold to professionals as a tool for emergency unlocking. Even overseas sales sites have disclaimers stating that ‘use for illegal activities is prohibited.’ However, the reality is that it is being exploited for crime. Checking the site, I found a ‘Game Boy’ labeled with ‘TOYOTA.’ The list of compatible models includes Lexus, Land Cruiser, Alphard, and other luxury cars. Furthermore, watching the instructional videos posted, it’s evident that simply placing the ‘Game Boy’ against the door allows for unlocking and starting the engine, taking only about 1-2 minutes. Although the price is approximately 20,000 euros (about 3.2 million yen), it boasts formidable capabilities.”

To protect your beloved car from the clutches of car thieves, what measures should you take? Automotive journalist Kumiko Kato provides insight:

“There aren’t many effective countermeasures currently available. However, the most effective solution, albeit conventional, is to have domestically-made security equipment installed by reputable authorized shops. While steering wheel locks are vulnerable to cutting, high-end tire locks that require specialized tools for cutting are more effective. Purchasing and installing commercial GPS trackers or air tags can also be effective. If you can track the vehicle, the likelihood of recovery significantly increases. Relying solely on the manufacturer’s OEM security features isn’t enough. Thieves often target these because their installation positions are thoroughly analyzed, so they are usually the first to be destroyed, even if they are difficult to break.”

Kato also emphasizes the importance of stricter penalties, stating that even in cases where the theft amounts to tens of billions of yen, the actual prison sentences can be as short as 5-6 years.

The escalation of luxury car thefts into more malicious acts shouldn’t be tolerated. Criminals shouldn’t be allowed to have the last laugh.

A video on a sales website. The word “TOYOTA” can be seen on the screen. The process took about one minute.
Mr. A. responding to an interview. He was careful about storing his keys and had installed several security cameras, but he was unable to prevent the theft.

From the March 22, 2024 issue of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO. Courtesy of Mr. A (other than the video on the sales website)

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