As long as there have been cars on the road, there’s been car crime. And that took a spike with the dawn of keyless cars, which meant thieves could find a way in without a hint of blunt force.
But that pales in comparison to the new threat – one that can’t be seen. The dark web, a hidden part of the internet that is only reached through dedicated software and funded by untraceable cryptocurrency, is a hub for all things illicit – including narcotics, fraudulent practices and motoring scams.
To get an idea of the risk facing UK motorists, we’ve analysed a few such marketplaces for their driving-related dangers and how accessible they are to those looking for them.
Criminals claim they can infiltrate Uber with fake drivers for under £1
Our most shocking finding is that dark web users are able to buy their way into Uber’s driver database and pose as a fake driver – for only 77 pence.
Although there’s no way of knowing if the scam is technically possible from the surface, it’s scary to consider taxi travellers could be duped by a fake account that has infiltrated the system. Arguably the most dangerous driving-related service we found on the dark web, and also the cheapest.
Car thieves can find your address for less than the cost of a bus ticket
The illegal listings also cover driver scanner software, tied with fake Uber profiles as the cheapest product or service in our study. While the prospect of in-car software that simply scans the reg plates of other cars isn’t immediately worrying, such tech can be used to identify models and their registered addresses.
Would-be car thieves could handpick valuable cars on the road, determine their address, and visit later to steal the car. And for much less than the cost of a bus ticket – the charge for driver scanner software (£0.77) is less than a third of a daily bus pass (£2.58).
Guides to stealing keyless cars are available for little over £1.50
The third-cheapest service, at only £1.53, offers dark webbers a tutorial for stealing keyless cars. Almost 90,000 cars were stolen in 2020, with many of these believed to have been via keyless entry. In fact, the Daily Mail reports that keyless cars now make up half of all thefts, despite accounting for only 1% of registered cars.
Using relay technology, thieves can intercept the signal from a key fob and replicate it to trick the car into unlocking and starting up.
Last year, a single gang in Leicestershire was convicted of stealing £2.4m worth of vehicles. The possibility of more offenders learning the method poses a real threat to UK motorists.
For less than the cost of an Auto Trader listing, sly car sellers can create fake ads or wipe shady vehicle history
The dark web’s offerings don’t just cover stealing cars, but also selling them illegally. One seller promised a tutorial for creating fake vehicle listings on used car sites, presumably to lure buyers into paying deposits on cars that don’t exist, before vanishing with the money. Only £38.21 is required – less than the cost of listing the average UK car on Auto Trader.
For the same price, a car-selling con artist could purchase a vehicle history cheat. Such a scam would allow a seller to amend their car’s odometer and maintenance history, perhaps covering up high mileages, sub-par repairs and even write-offs.
GPS trackers and fake licences are by far the most expensive car-related product on the dark web
Fake licences are found as the second-most expensive product from our time on the dark web, with only GPS trackers (£420.30) requiring more cryptocurrency. On average, the cost of a fake licence is £241.64, which seems steep compared to a valid full UK driving licence costing as little as £34, but the fees touted by dark web sellers vary wildly.
While some European counterfeits stretched well into the thousands, many were available for as little as one dollar – 77 pence in our money.
Perhaps due to the standardised templates and cross-border compatibility of EU licences, their forged examples seemed the most expensive, reaching as high as £1,700 in some cases.
Tips to keep yourself safe from car crime
Although there are certain crimes you can do little about, such as other road users scanning your reg plate, there are steps you can take to limit your chances of becoming a victim:
- Keep an eye out for tell-tale signs of a genuine taxi: although there’s no guarantee of a criminal being able to breach Uber’s driver database, it’s always worth being alert. Look for identification plates, often placed on the rear bumper and doors, and driver identity badges that often sit on the dash or hang from the mirror. For extra peace of mind, leave the passenger door open with one leg out while you check for ID – to allow for a swift exit.
- Invest in a faraday bag: these metal-lined pouches can limit or even entirely block the signal generated by a keyless car’s fob, reducing the chance of a car thief intercepting it and duping your car into unlocking. Without a faraday bag, keep your keys as far from doors and windows as you can – biscuit tins can also block the signal! Owners of non-keyless cars should keep their keys away from entry points as well, to deter burglars.
- Secure your driveaway or garage: A garage is one of the most secure locations for your car, but this won’t be possible for all drivers. Even a driveway can be reinforced with CCTV and motion sensing. If you can only park on the road, consider parking a short distance from your home – thieves may then struggle to determine which home a car belongs to and fail in their attempts to intercept signals or break in for keys.
- Check the validity of an online seller: it’s more difficult to spot a scam online, but there are steps you can take. Many apps and sites provide basic vehicle info using just a reg – use these to see if the details match that of the ad. Also speak with the seller over the phone to determine the car’s history – be it owners, repairs etc. Shady sellers may try to hold back certain info. Also arrange to inspect and test drive the car in person, and make sure to take a companion along.
- Get a dashcam: dashcams are handy on the move, but many models will also respond to and record motion even when you’re away from the car. This can help deter criminals, or catch them in the act if they’re attempting to break in or attach a GPS tracker to your car, for example. Some systems also come with two cameras for front and rear coverage.
Prices for the products and services outlined above were gathered direct from several dark web marketplaces, with averages calculated from the highest and lowest figures and converted to GBP.
The costs were then applied to the average price of bus tickets, valid licences and Auto Trader listings.
Enjoyed this? Read more articles similar to this one:
- Elon Musk’s earnings in real time
- The future of cars according to kids
- The James Bond Blueprint - who will be the next Bond?
- The worlds most traffic jammed countries
- Calculate your risk of developing driving-related health issues
Where To Next?
For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to our newsletter.
Looking for a great leasing deal? Check out our incredible range of special offers.
Read our latest reviews and find the right model for you.
Want to know more about leasing? Take a look at our comprehensive leasing guides.
Interested in everything motoring? Why not catch up on all the latest car leasing news.