Zurich to host webinar for dealerships on preventing auto theft in the tech age

Key control is crucial to security at car dealerships as thieves are using technology to their advantage, including stealing multiple vehicles in single raids, according to one of the organizers of an upcoming webinar on auto theft.

Thieves able to gain access to key fobs have a big advantage as they can more easily find a car in a crowded lot, Bob Burik, a senior customer service executive with Zurich NA, an insurance and risk management company, told Mega Dealer News. The company is hosting the Nov. 6 webinar, "The Booming Auto Theft Business," during which the Zurich specialists will deliver advice on the effect of thefts on dealerships and what measures can be taken to prevent them, or lessen the risk.

According to the latest FBI figures, an estimated 748,841 motor vehicles, three quarters of them automobiles, were stolen nationwide in 2018. This is a decrease of 3.1 percent on the previous year, but a rise of 9 percent since 2014. More than $6 billion was lost nationwide to motor vehicle thefts in 2018, with $8,407 being the average loss per stolen vehicle.

Thieves, including organized gangs, some that travel across the country, are able to identify cars and steal them much quicker than if they still had to find one using the traditional key, Burik said.

"These days, the flip side is that you do not have a physical key," Burik said. "With a key fob it is much easier to steal a car if there is a lack of security. [Thieves] can steal a whole bunch if they find the fobs. And steal in seconds, rather than tens of minutes."

Burik cited one case in which a gang of thieves used a car carrier to haul away multiple vehicles from a dealership in a semi-rural, suburban district in Texas. They also disabled the video surveillance and used cover to the rear of the building to take their time to find and load the vehicles onto the carrier.

Burik believes there is a lack of awareness among some dealers, particularly those in rural and semi-rural areas, where the prevailing thought may be that it will never happen to them. In some places, the key fobs or keys are even left in vehicles to make it easier for staff, he said.

While a reported spike in carjackings in cities such as St. Louis, Milwaukee and Chicago in recent years is blamed on the inability of street thieves to beat advanced security within vehicles, dealers can be vulnerable to the more stealthy theft if they do not lock down their key fobs, Burik warns.

Burik revealed other ruses used by thieves, include booking a test drive and switching the fob without the salesperson noticing and then returning later to steal the car. He said that many of the stolen cars are delivered to chop shops for parts, but a large number, particularly those close to the coasts and ports, are smuggled overseas.

Burik also highlighted what can be a big problem for dealers if they lose even just one car, which may not in itself be the "end of the world." But if the thief is then involved in an accident that kills or injures a third party, the dealer may be found liable if a plaintiff can successfully argue that security was so lax that it amounted to negligence. 

"The Booming Auto Theft Business" webinar takes place on Wednesday, Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. EST, and participants can register here.

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Zurich, NA 1299 Zurich Way Schaumburg, IL 60196-5870