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Going Dotty To Beat Car Thieves

SYDNEY (dpa) – Car theft is costing Australia over 1 billion Australian dollars (500 million U.S. dollars) a year.

It’s an industry that employs tens of thousands and is run by crime gangs that are also into protection rackets and drug dealing, according to officials.

And it’s become amazingly sophisticated. There are thieves who specialise in just one model and housewives working home computers to finding parts for “rebirthers”.

The rebirthing scam works like this: a late-model vehicle is stolen, stripped and dumped. Sold at auction by the insurer, it’s bought by those who stole it, reassembled and given a new identity.

Australia, which has the second highest rate of car theft after Britain, is a paradise for car thieves.

Immobilisers are not standard on new cars – as the law dictates in Europe. And the police often treat car theft as an inconvenience rather than a crime.

The Institute of Criminology’s Adam Graycar has estimated that there is one conviction for every 47 car thefts and one jail sentence for every 135 car thefts.

It’s pretty much up to owners of vehicles to ensure they keep them – a situation that has spawned an anti-car theft industry.

The industry has a new weapon: spraying cars with 10,000 microdots, each one-millimetre dot laser-etched with the vehicle’s identification numbers.

The technology, developed by Sydney company DataDot Technology, makes it much easier for police to detect a stolen vehicle or a stolen part.

The dots are sprayed in places like the boot, the air- conditioning system and the underside. Using an ultraviolet light and a magnifying glass, it’s easy to see whether the numbers all match up to those in the log book.

DataDot Technology managing director Ian Allen said the Australian distributors of five prestige car manufacturers had signed up to use the system.

Authorities in Britain and South Africa are also interested in adopting DataDot.

But criminologist Graycar warns that flash new technologies will not beat the majority of car thieves.

Over half the cars stolen in Australia are bangers worth less than 3,000 Australian dollars (1,500 U.S. dollars) and less than 1 per cent of cars stolen are the late-model prestige vehicles likely to come in for the DataDot treatment.

Australia’s most-stolen car, the Hyundai Excel, is also one of its cheapest.

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