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Social Engineering Scams in Car Theft Tactics: How to Prevent It

Imagine a thief stealing your car without ever breaking a window or picking a lock.

While technology has done its part by providing security measures to safeguard your vehicle against theft, criminals have found an alternative way to get their hands on your vehicle without triggering any alarms — social engineering.

In this blog, we'll unpack what to do and what to avoid when faced with social engineering tricks, and the solutions you can implement to keep your vehicles secure. 

Let’s begin.

In this article, you will:

  • Gain insights into the psychology behind social engineering tactics
  • Learn practical tips to recognise and resist common scams
  • Get real-life social engineering scenarios and tactics used by criminalsr
  • Discover practical solutions and security measures to protect your vehicles
  • Understand Cartrack’s features to help you combat social engineering tactics

Social engineering attacks: A car theft tactic

Nicknamed a sophisticated form of psychological manipulation, social engineering often uses trust, emotions, bias, and other human vulnerabilities to gain access to sensitive information, systems, and resources or to influence someone to perform actions like granting them unauthorised access to a secure location. 

In the case of car theft, criminals use social engineering to gain access to vehicles and the valuable contents inside.

The consequences of social engineering in car theft extend beyond stolen vehicles and valuables. Personal information acquired through these tactics can also be used for further identity theft, financial fraud, and so on.

Unlike traditional thieves who use brute force to get a car, thieves who use social engineering don’t rely on lockpicks, weapons or crowbars. Instead, they pose as trustworthy civilians to exploit inherent human traits and deceive their victims.What makes drivers so susceptible to these tactics?

  • An inner desire to help others: Our inherent willingness to assist people in need can be manipulated to gain trust and extract information.
  • A fear of authority: Sometimes thieves will pose as law enforcement and stop your vehicle. The perceived power dynamics with figures of authority can lead to compliance, even if the request seems suspicious, like “Get out of the car and leave the keys in”.
  • A sense of curiosity and urgency: Intriguing information or a sense of urgency can cloud judgment and lead to hasty decisions without proper scrutiny. This is where criminals would use distraction tactics to get your attention and lower your guard.

Examples of real-life scenarios:

The ‘lost’ scam: A thief pretends to be lost in a specific area, seeking help, be it looking for a family member or directions, to potentially lure the victim out of their vehicles.

The ‘vehicle breakdown’ scam: A thief poses as a motorist who needs help with their vehicle, like replacing a flat tyre, distracting the victim while an accomplice steals valuables from the car.

The "car damage" scam: A thief can create a minor incident by tapping the back of your car or approaching the victim under the pretence that there is something wrong with their car. While you step out to assess the damage, someone hops in and takes off with your vehicle.

How motorists can prevent social engineering attempts on their vehicles

From a ‘friendly’ stranger distracting you at a parking lot while another steals your car keys to a person 'stuck' on the side of the road asking for help: criminals are advancing their car-stealing tactics by manipulating and exploiting the genuine curiosity and kindness of motorists.

Remember, vigilance is key. While social engineering tactics can be tricky to identify, there are ways to lower your risk of becoming a victim:

  • Be cautious of unexpected requests: Always double-check the identity and assess the legitimacy of anyone asking for help or claiming authority.
  • Don’t give out personal details and belongings: Never give your car keys, PIN codes, or personal information to strangers, regardless of their story.
  • Stay informed: Learn about hijacking and car theft trends and share your tips and knowledge with others to help create greater awareness and safety.
  • Trust your instincts: If something seems fishy, it probably is. Don't be afraid to say no or walk away from a situation that doesn't feel right.
  • Park smart: Choose well-lit secure areas to park in, and try to park near security cameras whenever possible.
  • Report anything suspicious: Don't hesitate to contact the authorities if you think someone is using social engineering tactics.
  • Secure your vehicle: Use physical locks like steering wheel locks and invest in security systems or vehicle tracking technology that allows you to track your vehicle if it’s ever stolen.

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Impact of social engineering scams on fleet vehicles

While the previous section highlighted how social engineering exploits individual vulnerabilities for vehicle theft, the stakes escalate dramatically when businesses and fleets become the target. 

Social engineering relies on exploiting human vulnerabilities. In businesses, criminals can use this technique solely to gain unauthorised vehicle access without triggering any alarms.

This means that, even with the most robust security measures designed to protect their vehicles, fleet businesses are not 100% bulletproof against social engineering tactics.

Common social engineering tactics for vehicle theft in fleets

Fleet management companies face a vastly different, yet equally concerning, landscape of social engineering attacks. Just as individual drivers can be manipulated, so too can employees, with potentially devastating consequences for entire fleets and the business. 

To effectively shield your organisations, it’s crucial to understand the popular methods used by criminals.

  1. Impersonation

    By posing as legitimate figures like law enforcement, mechanics, insurance agents, or even roadside assistance personnel, criminals can gain access to vehicles or personal information under false pretences.
  2. Phishing for information

    Deceptive emails or text messages containing malicious links or requests for personal information can trick victims into providing vehicle access or revealing access codes or financial details. Or, if in person, they might engage in friendly conversation, asking seemingly harmless questions about your car, security systems, or daily routines. This information can be used to plan to steal a vehicle.
  3. Distraction and misdirection

    Distractions can occur when drivers stop their vehicles at a petrol station to fill up or while taking a break. One person can distract them by taking away their attention from their vehicles while their accomplice attempts to steal the keys, access the vehicle, and drive off. Criminals can even use this method to plant tracking devices unnoticed, with you, unknowingly, leading them to the rest of the fleet for a bigger vehicle theft operation.

Challenges to business security caused by social engineering

On the surface, it might seem harmless — maybe you share some well-meaning information, bend the rules a little, or trust someone who seems genuine. But when it comes to social engineering, that seemingly harmless interaction can have dire consequences for fleet owners.

  1. Unauthorised vehicle access:

    Social engineering can lead to criminals getting unauthorised access to fleet vehicles. This can happen when criminals manipulate individuals within the organisation to gain keys, access codes, or other critical information necessary to steal or misuse vehicles.
  2. Cargo theft and loss:

    Deceptive tactics can manipulate workers to load the wrong cargo, change plans, or divert shipments, resulting in stolen goods and disrupted supply chains.
  3. Data breach:

    Criminals using social engineering can steal sensitive information about the fleet, its routes, schedules, or maintenance protocols, causing huge potential issues when it comes to keeping information secret and safe.
  4. Financial Impact:

    All these problems can cost fleet owners a lot of money. Stolen vehicles, operational disruptions, and potential legal issues can cause significant financial losses, affecting the overall profitability of the business.

Practical solutions to fight against social engineering for businesses

Social engineering poses a significant challenge for fleet management, as it's sometimes difficult to prevent by just using conventional security measures alone.

Social engineering is a persistent threat, but with awareness, training, and the right tools, you can outsmart criminals.

  1. The human firewall:

    Train your workers on social engineering tactics and create an open environment for your drivers to report dodgy events or conversations that have happened. Regular refreshers promote constant vigilance.
  2. A culture of scepticism:

    Promote a culture where questioning suspicious requests, verifying information through established channels, and reporting concerns, even small ones, are encouraged, valued, and celebrated through incentives.
  3. Limit privileged access:

    Grant employees access and permissions fit for their specific roles. This makes it harder for them to provide access to confidential areas or share important information that could have potentially damaging consequences for the company if received by criminals.
  4. Use technological solutions:

    Get security software to stop phishing attempts, keep an eye on systems, and see if someone is trying to get in. Consider a trusted fleet management system to improve fleet visibility, and monitor all vehicle locations and status through one platform.

    Addressing these risks requires both technological solutions and employee training to create a stronger defence against social engineering threats.

How Cartrack’s solutions give you an added layer of protection in your fight against vehicle theft

While steering wheel locks and other conventional safety features can help, they can’t protect vehicles when criminals directly manipulate drivers to strip off the safety measures and trust them with your business’s vehicle. 

While we can't protect motorists against the feeling of violation, anger and worry that social engineering causes, Cartrack’s solutions can assist in giving your vehicle an added layer of protection and recovering your stolen vehicle. 

  1. GPS tracking device

    Our units give you full visibility of your vehicle's location in real time, allowing you to see exactly where your vehicles are 24/7. This with a dedicated air and ground recovery team, gives you extra protection and peace of mind should your drivers ever be victims of social engineering vehicle theft.
  2. Driver ID tags

    Add an extra layer of vehicle security by assigning driver ID tags to each of your drivers. If a vehicle is used without the tag, it can be flagged as potential vehicle theft, helping you to act swiftly. Our ID tags can also be used as ‘access cards’ for your facilities, which can let you know what drivers were on duty on the day an incident occurred.
  3. Driver ID tags and Start Prevent

    Combining Start Prevent technology with driver ID tags can give you more vehicle protection. This now means a driver needs to use the ID tag to start a vehicle and the Start Prevent feature when activated, can prevent a driver from starting a vehicle without your authorisation. Together, these features can help create extra layers for thieves to bypass in your combat against vehicle engineering theft.
  4. Geofencing

    Set up virtual boundaries around authorised areas and receive alerts for unauthorised movement or attempts to leave designated zones. Managers can use Cartrack’s geofence feature with our GPS tracking technology to live-locate vehicles the moment they’ve exited an authorised zone, which can allow you to react quickly should you suspect foul play.

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Build your defence against vehicle theft with Cartrack USA

Whether for personal or business use, Cartrack's advanced safety solutions can help you protect your vehicles against social engineering threats.

Contact Cartrack USA today to get a free quote.

Protect yourself and your fleet from social engineering tactics with essential insights to thwart vehicle theft.