Experts have claimed that organised car thieves are using WhatsApp groups to plan and steal vehicles to order as motor thefts remain at epidemic levels.
Criminal gangs are using coded messaging on apps and even mobile games to draw up and share shopping lists of models identified as being ideal targets, relay information about how to steal specific cars and put plans in place to hide their identity.
These tactics have helped to fuel the rise of keyless car thefts, according to vehicle protection experts.
The report by motor security company AX said the use of platforms like WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal are now the favoured way for gangs to communicate and mobilise.
Information is shared about preferred targets, pricing and buyers before preparing bogus number plates from similar vehicles to rapidly clone vehicles, it claimed.
This means the full process of stealing a car becomes more streamlined and efficient for organised criminals.
Home Office figures show the number of vehicles stolen in Britain has almost doubled in the last five years, mainly a result of the rise in relay thefts.
In 2017-18, nearly 112,000 cars were taken illegally, up from 75,308 in the 2013-14 financial year.
Neil Thomas, director of Investigative Services at the security firm, said WhatsApp group chats are used to supply details to thieves about everything from the removal of trackers, to the dismantling of vehicles for parts and networks through which cars are exported.
'The highly organised criminal networks are constantly looking for more secure ways to carry on their "businesses" online and use social media with encrypted messaging capabilities or even online games to covertly communicate with each other,' he said.
'The sheer volume of thefts is practically epidemic and is enabling criminals to purchase costly technology which then fuels even more car crime.'
Corroboration between thieves and underground vehicle stripping shops means there can be a constant flow of information.
This can not only help to inform gangs about the cars they need to be looking for but also when they're likely to be delivering them so they can be broken down into difficult-to-trace spares that are then sold online.
Thomas added: '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.
'We've been highly successful in recovering vehicles for our clients. However, it is usually only possible if they can be traced and this requires specific technology as well as the instinct of experienced professionals.'
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.