Skip to main content

UK thieves jailed after stealing £180K of cars with a 'Game Boy'

A device for stealing cars disguised as a Game Boy.
(Image credit: West Yorkshire Police)

A trio of car thieves have been jailed by Leeds Crown Court for stealing cars with a device designed to look like a Nintendo Game Boy. All pled guilty to the charge of conspiracy to steal. The gang had managed to steal five Mitsubishi Outlanders using the handheld device, which is about £180,000 worth of cars.

West Yorkshire Police estimate the device itself is worth about £20,000, and told the BBC that it could unlock and start a car "in a matter of seconds." The device appears to work by essentially 'mirroring' the short-range frequencies of a particular key fob: fooling the car into thinking that the device is the key itself. Marcus Hutchins is a bit of a poacher-turned-gamekeeper in the cybercrime business, and he explains in the below video what the thieves' device is doing. Spoiler: it's cunning.

@malwaretech

Reply to @ancspace Rather than cloning the key they typically use an amplification + relay attack to extend the key’s range #hacking #tech #security

♬ original sound - Marcus Hutchins

The perpetrators, Dylan Armer, Christopher Bowes and Thomas Poulson, were arrested after stealing a Mitsubishi Outlander from a driveway on 20 July this year. There's CCTV footage of the theft (which can be viewed on the BBC website) showing the thieves work their dark magic on the car: officers arrested them shortly afterwards.

If you're wondering 'why a Game Boy?' the answer is probably just that it's an inconspicuous and easily recognisable piece of older tech: the kind of thing you wouldn't think twice about seeing someone fooling around with, or think was especially noteworthy. The device was found in a secret compartment of the thieves' car following their arrest. The would-be criminal masterminds had also helpfully recorded themselves nicking the cars, which the police said showed: "how quickly and easily the gadget gave them full access to the vehicles, accompanied by a commentary in mocking tones".

Armer was jailed for 30 months by the court. Bowes and Poulson were each given 22 months in prison, suspended for two years.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."