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Chiba police call for driver precaution as prefecture becomes Japan's car theft capital

Chiba Prefectural Police headquarters (Mainichi/Mayumi Nobuta)

CHIBA -- East Japan's Chiba Prefecture saw 493 car thefts between January and August -- the worst among all Japan's 47 prefectures. In addition to standard theft prevention measures like locking car doors, the prefectural police are now calling on people to take extra precautions such as installing alarms.

    According to Chiba Prefectural Police's community safety and general affairs division, thefts during the period were up by 25 on the same period in 2020. Among the car-stealing methods confirmed was one where a special system is used to start the engine even when the doors are locked.

    By prefectural regions, thefts of luxury cars such as Lexus were noticeable in the northwest, while vehicles such as Toyota's Hiace vans and trucks were stolen in the southeast. Some 80% of stolen automobiles were locked. There were also apparently organized thefts, including a case in which seven used cars for sale were stolen overnight. The division believes Chiba Prefecture may be targeted because it "has a good network of expressways, yards to store cars and break them down into parts, as well as ports to ship them."

    Recent years have seen an increasing number of "relay attack" schemes, a trick in which weak signals from smart keys inside houses or elsewhere are amplified by a special device, thereby sending a vehicle false information that a key fob is nearby to start the engine.

    Furthermore, hacking a car's controller area network -- a new technique for stealing a car without the key nearby -- was also confirmed. This method, which directly connects a special device to a vehicle's wires to hack the controller system for theft, was first detected in Japan by Hyogo Prefectural Police and others.

    The prefectural police are urging people to use anti-theft security systems as a countermeasure. In one case, a man reportedly noticed his car's security alarm was activated and came out of the house to find his vehicle, which he had parked and locked on his property, straying into the road. Because the security alarm went off, the thief apparently fled the scene.

    As much as 70% of the cars stolen had no anti-theft security systems installed. A representative for the division said that anti-theft security alarms and steering wheel locks stop criminals trying to steal vehicles. Regarding using parking lots, they said, "If you choose a place which has security cameras and sensor lights that come on when a person is detected nearby, you can easily prevent theft."

    In cooperation with the Chiba branch of the General Insurance Association of Japan, the prefectural police have created a video demonstrating car thieves' techniques. They began screening it sequentially from Oct. 7 at JR Chiba Station, auto dealers, driving schools and elsewhere in the prefecture.

    The prefectural police's community safety department chief Tadashi Hatanaka said, "We want to stop damages by combining a crackdown on criminal groups with theft prevention measures."

    (Japanese original by Tatsuya Naganuma, Chiba Bureau)

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