Money Helpdesk: Cars under threat from key cloners

OUR car was stolen from our drive one very wet and windy night recently.

We didn't hear a thing. The car was less than a year old, was locked and both sets of keys were indoors, and indeed we still have the keys. The police and our insurance company questioned us closely and I'm happy and relieved to say the insurance paid up, although we have lost our no-claim bonus.

It seems that somehow our keys were copied when we were attending a dinner. The concierge at the hotel was offering to park guests' cars and I thought nothing of it. As we stayed overnight, I didn't collect our keys until the following morning. I should have guessed then something was awry, as to start with they couldn't find my keys and it turned out that they were not in the safe where they thought they had left them. It seems that two other cars at the same event were subsequently stolen and the police believe that the keys had somehow been "cloned".

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Our car has never been found and the police suspect it was exported straight away. We have a new car now and as an added precaution it is fitted with a tracker, which actually gained us a small discount on our insurance premium.

I write this as a warning to others and to ask whether this is very common?

SB, by e-mail

Ian Crowder, insurance expert at the AA, writes:

This is a relatively new threat to car owners. Keys are the weakest link in the car security chain because modern cars are almost impossible to steal without them. They are locked and alarmed using sophisticated electronic algorithms that are unique to each vehicle.

However, we have come across a small number of cases where the electronic data contained in the car "keys" has been "read" in a matter of minutes using sophisticated code-scanning equipment and later reproduced in a device that will unlock the car and allow it to be driven away. It happens in a similar way to cloning devices that have been found on credit card readers. It's only a matter for the thieves to discover who owns the car and where it is normally kept: they might even have followed you home the next day.

How your keys were able to be accessed and scanned in this way is a matter for the police to investigate. The lesson is never to let your keys out of your possession if you can help it, although you have little choice when you put it in for a service. However, you can always politely decline any offer to park your car if you are attending a function.

Handing your keys over to someone, or leaving them in your unlocked car, usually results in a claim being refused if the car is stolen. But your insurance company was sympathetic to your case as you handed the keys over in good faith. The insurer would not regard your action as negligent and you have been subject to deception so your claim was met in full. But if this turns into a trend then they might think differently. One or two very recent cars are equipped with keys that have built-in anti-cloning protection and others are likely to follow suit. Thieves are usually only a step or two behind so perhaps it won't be long before they can "crack" them too.

Fitting a tracker is a good idea - many stolen cars have been quickly recovered using such equipment and, as you say, insurers recognise this by offering discounts.

Readers should seek independent financial advice before taking action. Replies to readers' queries are offered on the basis that no legal liability is created thereby.

State pension changes will cost me 11,000

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I AM very concerned by the latest announcements about raising the state pension age, which means I will have to wait another two years for my pension, depriving me of 11,000, which I think most unfair.

I am 56 years old, born in May 1954, and was one of the women that were a part of the first group whose pension age was changed from 60. This group were those born between April 1950 and April 1955. This change was made some years ago and I accepted under rights of equality that the age should be moved towards 65. Therefore for the past ten-plus years I have been planning to receive my state pension on 6 July 2018, when I would be just over 64.

This latest government proposal will now push my state pension age to 66, ie to start receiving on 27 May 2020, which means a delay of nearly two years. I believe this situation is unjust to the group of women who were initially caught by the first proposals and now have been pushed further down. Women who were born after April 1955 were not expecting to receive their pension until age 65, thus they have only an additional year to wait. I believe that no women should have to wait more than one further year to receive their pension.

I would be interested in your comments and whether there is anything we can do about it.

YH, by e-mail

Tom McPhail, head of pensions research at Hargreaves Lansdown, writes:

I am sorry to report that due to your date of birth you are one of the people who will be hardest hit by this new increase to the state pension age; most of those affected will only have to wait a year or less for their state pension.

To some extent, considerations of equality are responsible for the steep increase in state pension ages for women. The government's initial thinking was that the state pension age for men would rise to 66 from 2016 and would start rising to 66 for women only after 2020, when the existing hikes to their state pension age had already played through. However, the government is required by the EU to work towards equalisation of state pension ages for men and women. It cannot therefore legally widen the gap in these ages as it initially proposed. As you point out, the result is that women like yourself bear the brunt of the change.

There is little that can be done to change the government's plans, beyond perhaps writing to your MP. In terms of what you can do to fill the gap, you might consider saving into a stocks and shares Isa if you are not already. A 100 a month regular saving plan would give you two years' worth of state pension by 2018, assuming your fund achieved 6 per cent growth.

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