New figures revealed in a BBC 5 Live investigation show that a van is broken into every 24 minutes, leading the Master Locksmiths Association to issue security advice for tradespeople.
The figures show a 65% increase in the theft of tools from vans in the last three years. In 2014-2015 there were just over 13,000 reported tool thefts from vans, while in the year to March 2017 this had increased to over 21,500. The rise is largely thought to be due to the easy online availability of lock manipulation equipment, that allows thieves to break into vehicles and steal tools with ease.
The news comes as latest ONS crime statistics for the year ending December 2016 reveal a 16% increase in the theft of motor vehicles (up to 92,868 offences) and a 4% increase in thefts from all vehicles, which rose to 247,649.
Commenting on the news, Dr Steffan George, managing director of the Master Locksmiths Association (MLA), said: "It's worrying to see the recent increase in cases of motor thefts and thefts from vehicles. With almost 250,000 reported cases of thefts from vehicles over the last year, and a particular spike in the theft of tools from tradespeople's vans, it's vital that vehicle owners not only think about safeguarding their vehicle, but also take a number of simple steps to deter would-be thieves from stealing from their vehicle. If in doubt, seek advice from a trusted and experienced professional. MLA locksmiths are independently vetted and inspected and many will be able to perform a complete security assessment of your vehicle, for example seeing whether fitting additional deadlocks may help enhance security of vans, or indeed your home, free of charge."
The MLA has issued the following advice to help owners keep their vehicles as safe and secure as possible:
1. Firstly, consider where you park. Ideally, you will have a secured garage in which you can keep your vehicle at night and, if you have this option, ensure an MLA-approved locksmith has carried out a security check on it. If driveway parking is the most secure option, fit outdoor motion detector lighting and CCTV to deter would-be criminals, as well as parking 'defensively', ie: close to the property so that, where possible, you are blocking load cargo doors for vans. If your only option is to park on the street, make sure it's in a well-lit area.
2. Remove temptation for opportunist thieves. Electrical items, tool bags and clothing all attract thieves. Keep your vehicle's interior clutter free with any valuables out of sight or removed completely. It's also a good idea to empty your glove box and leave it open to show that you've got nothing to hide. Don’t forget to hide any signs of expensive equipment too – such as the circular suction mark that your Sat-Nav leaves on your windscreen. If you are a tradesperson using a van, then consider whether it's feasible to empty the van at night (we appreciate that this is often not realistic, especially where the tradesperson may be offering a 24 hour service)
3. Watch your keys. It sounds simple, but keep an eye on your keys. If you have a spare set ensure they are kept in a safe and secure location (away from the doors and windows), and if your vehicle is 'keyless' ie: you don't need to operate the key fob to gain access to the vehicle, then consider where you store it and how. Ensure it's far enough away from the vehicle not to still be active or for the signal be able to be intercepted and used. If you buy a used vehicle, ensure you get the number of keys that can operate the vehicle checked – and if necessary reprogrammed – so previous owners can't access it. If you do happen to lose your keys, contact an MLA approved locksmith as soon as possible who will be able to ensure that only the keys in your possession can be used, removing all others from the motor vehicle's database so they will no longer start the vehicle.
4. Fit additional locks. Speak to a professional locksmith about adding deadlocks or slam locks to your vehicle doors (cab and cargo bay). These locks, which function separately to the central locking and use their own keys, can not only combat the issue of specific lock picks being available, but can also be strategically placed to ensure that the peel back method of gaining entry is compromised.
5. Fit an immobiliser. They work in a variety of ways by preventing the ignition, starter motor or fuel pump from working. However, they all do the same thing and that's safeguard your vehicle from theft. This is the single most cost-effective way to reduce your insurance premium, provided it is fitted by a professional.
6. Fit an alarm. If you haven't got a factory-fitted alarm, you can cut the cost of your insurance by getting a good quality alarm fitted. The market is awash with alarms detecting everything from a window being broken to your bonnet being opened. Quality varies enormously so check with your insurer that your alarm is approved and it will earn you a discount. Ensure that the alarm covers the cargo bay and consider one with proximity detectors.
7. Invest in a steering wheel lock. They provide a cheap deterrent that's likely to put off all but the most determined criminal. Handbrake and gearstick locks are also useful.
8. Get your windows etched. Etching the last seven digits of your Vehicle Identity Number (or registration) on to your windows, headlights and mirrors means anyone trying to change your vehicle's identity will really have a difficult job.
9. Consider installing a vehicle tracking system. If stolen, the vehicle can then be tracked and recovered. There are two main types of tracker: GPS systems can find your vehicle while it's at street level, and VHF systems can find your vehicle even if it's hidden in an underground car park or storage container.
10. Lock your vehicle! It sounds obvious but leaving your vehicle unlocked is easier to do than you may imagine. Always double check.