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October 1, 2023

Car crimes on the rise as thieves draw inspiration from social media

Andrew Taylor and Nigel Gladstone

Car thefts and break-ins are on the rise across NSW and Sydney’s north shore, inner west and east, with social media posts of people stealing cars identified as one of the driving factors behind the trend.

Strathfield, The Hills Shire, Ryde, Hornsby and Parramatta recorded Sydney’s fastest proportional increases in stolen cars in the two years to June 2023 as rates climbed by more than 50 per cent.

But total thefts in these areas were below 800 vehicles while more than 1200 cars were stolen from Blacktown and Canterbury-Bankstown, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) data shows.

The average increase in car thefts across NSW was 23 per cent in the year to June 2023, driven at least partially by a “bounce-back” from COVID-driven crime declines of 2020 and 2021 as pandemic restrictions eased, BOCSAR executive director Jackie Fitzgerald said.

In some western and northern NSW regions “numbers are really escalating”, and social media posts encouraging vehicle theft on platforms such as TikTok may be a factor, Fitzgerald said.

Dubbed the Kia Challenge, instructional videos on social media showing how to bypass a vehicle’s security led to a spate of car thefts in the United States and a $US200 million settlement stemming from a class-action lawsuit.

A series of car crashes involving teenagers has also prompted police concern about gangs of youths breaking into houses, taking car keys and selling the stolen vehicles for a few thousand dollars.

Fitzgerald said vehicles stolen in regional NSW were more likely to be recovered in Sydney, suggesting they were opportunistic crimes for joyriding and transport. In contrast, car thefts in Sydney were more likely to be organised offences for the purposes of selling the vehicle or its parts.

NSW Police relaunched Operation Regional Mongoose in November 2022 to tackle “serious property-related crime committed predominately by young offenders” and since then, more than a dozen arrests have been made.

Charges against young people for vehicle theft in regional NSW have increased 179 per cent over the past five years, and are up 52 per cent across Greater Sydney, BOCSAR data shows.

However, this recent rise in car theft is a small bump in a decline that began more than 20 years ago.

Fitzgerald said cars manufactured before 2011 were stolen almost twice as often as newer models.

The vehicles at the highest risk of theft were Holdens, Jeeps, Land Rovers, and Audis, while Hondas and Suzukis had lower rates of theft.

Car brands with increased theft rates over the past five years include Kias, Jeeps, Isuzus, Land Rovers and Volkswagens.

A NSW Police spokeswoman said motor vehicle crimes were “largely opportunistic”, and urged residents to be vigilant with security and take measures to reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim of theft.

“This includes locking your vehicle, making sure valuables aren’t left on display, not leaving items in the glove box or centre console, and making sure the spare keys aren’t hidden in the car,” she said.

An NRMA Insurance spokesman said thefts were a minor contributing factor to a customer’s premium.

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Designed by Bob Lycoudis
NPM. VPM. Police Prosecutor. Sergeant Victoria Police (Retired) Inventor, Coplock Designer, Car Theft Researcher
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