Dots put thieves on the spot

Dots put thieves on the spot

As car thieves use increasingly high­ tech methods to steal valuable vehicles, detectives are turning to high-tech methods to stop them.

Waitemata’s Tactical Crime Team (TCT) recently terminated Operation Ma loo, charging an Auckland man with stealing high-value, late-model Holden HSVs and re-birthing them using identities of written-off vehicles.

Despite elaborate steps taken to disguise the vehicles, TCT head Detective Sergeant Callum McNeill was aware they were marked with thousands of tiny data dots containing unique ‘DNA’ which allowed them to be identified.

“It’s virtually impossible to locate and remove all the data dots, making it extremely difficult for thieves to re-birth stolen vehicles or sell stolen parts through second-hand dealers and wreckers’ yards.” he says.

Callum – who is accredited with the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators (IAATI) – says investigation and SOCO staff can locate and read the dots using easily available equipment.

The investigation team established vehicles were stolen using reprogrammed keys to beat ‘key less’ ignition systems. They were given a new identity by re-birthing them into shells of written-off Holdens bought online and imported from Australia. The bulk of the stolen car’s parts were transferred into the repaired shell, leaving just the stolen shell to be disposed of.

However, all Holden HSV vehicles since 2001 have been sprayed with ‘data dots’ – about the size of a grain of sand and encoded with information including a unique 17-digit vehicle identification number.

They are also used on most late-model Subarus, BMWs. Porsches, Ford Performance Vehicles. Lexus, Mitsubishi Evo 6s, later Minis and Audis and some motorcycles.

Callum is concerned New Zealand is following high-tech trends evident in the UK and Australia.

“In the past we’ve dealt with car thieves who use a pipe wrench, screwdriver and slide hammer,” says Callum. “Now high-tech thieves are carrying OBD diagnostic tools, code-grabbing machines and replacement engine control units.

“One way to combat car thieves is to fit GPS tracking devices and encourage the use of visible deterrents including steering locks. It could be enough to panic and delay a thief armed with a key programmer rather than a hacksaw.”

Courtesy of the New Zealand Police Magazine.