Criminals using WhatsApp are being blamed for fuelling car thefts in Britain, says vehicle protection specialists AX.

The company claims the thieves are using encrypted social media platforms, like WhatsApp, to ‘plan and execute’ car thefts.

Criminals are said to draw up and share ‘shopping lists’ of vehicle makes and models so that they can be stolen to order.

Neil Thomas, AX director of investigative services, said: “The highly organised criminal networks are constantly looking for more secure ways to carry on their ‘business’ online and use social media with encrypted messaging capabilities or even online games to covertly communicate with each other.”

The news follows on from what Thomas refers to as ‘practically a car theft epidemic’. Home Office figures show the number of vehicles stolen in Britain has almost doubled in the past five years. In 2017-18, almost 112,000 cars were stolen – up from 75,308 in the 2013-14 financial year.

Thomas added: “The sheer volume of thefts is enabling criminals to purchase costly technology which then fuels even more crime.

“The thieves who take the initial risk get the cash payment, then the buyer, who now has a tracker-free car can then take their time to strip it, clone it or export it. This is where the profit is, especially in terms of the parts which can amount to much more than the complete vehicle.”