The European Barrier Model

The European barrier model emerged as a collaborative effort, uniting national barrier models crafted by research teams from Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. Each country brought its distinct insights, combining these national models into a cohesive European barrier model. The process involved identifying shared elements like opportunities, signals, facilitators, partners, and barriers while incorporating factors pertinent at the European level. The model evolved through workshops and expert feedback to offer a unified comprehension of vehicle theft across Europe. The European barrier model delves into the complete motor vehicle theft process by expanding to ten steps — Entry, Stay, Infrastructure, Preparation, Crime, Post-Crime, Storage, Transport, Trade, and Profit. It underscores the significance of international collaboration and standardisation in the ongoing battle against organised crime.

Click the “+” symbol for more information on each step. Explore the detailed insights in our report to learn more about the barrier model.


The Schengen area’s open borders and low intra-EU travel costs enable easy, often anonymous entry for criminals, with minimal documentation checks and the ability to purchase transport tickets under false names.

A key signal is luggage that does not align with the purported nature of the trip, indicating potential criminal intent.

Airports and car rental companies inadvertently facilitate entry by providing travel and transport services to perpetrators.

Car rental companies and airports can identify suspicious behaviour, like false documentation, and are crucial in providing data on vehicle rentals and monitoring customs.

Effective strategies include data sharing regulations between law enforcement and private entities, rigorous passport controls, focused training on signal identification, increased law enforcement patrols, and expansion of ANPR camera networks for broader surveillance.


Criminals exploit the ability to stay legally as tourists and remain anonymous in accommodations like campgrounds, hotels, and Airbnb, where only the main tenant is registered, and cash transactions allow further anonymity.

Indicators of criminal activity include deviant behaviours like unusual traffic at odd hours in accommodations, overcrowding, or constantly drawn curtains in areas with limited nightlife.

Accommodation providers, including campgrounds, hotels, and online platforms like Airbnb, often unknowingly facilitate criminals by providing lodging without stringent checks.

LEAs enforce registration, landlords ensure local Airbnb compliance with guest registration, and accommodation providers maintain detailed guest records. Civilians also play a role by reporting suspicious activities.

Enhanced community policing and presence, stricter regulations for tourist/guest identification and registration in the tourism sector, digital night registers, and awareness campaigns targeting accommodation owners.


The criminals exploit sparse LEA patrols, the extensive network of roads and public transport, and under-monitored alternative routes not covered by ANPR systems. Ports allowing vehicles to be transported and the use of straw men for rentals also facilitate their activities.

Limited signals at this stage, with the use of false number plates being a potential indicator of suspicious activity.

The role of ports in transporting vehicles, public transport for anonymous travel, and straw men used for car rentals aid criminals in their activities.

LEAs need to increase patrols and presence in public spaces, along with police and investigation agencies.

Enhancing and expanding ANPR systems, increased surveillance and controls on highways and at ports, and the sharing and synchronisation of ANPR data across Europe.


The preparation phase involves online resources for car access methods, lax regulation of virgin car key sales, public vehicle data access, and the use of track and trace devices, along with easily purchasable ICT tools for programming key fobs.

Indicators include purchasing virgin car keys, inquiring about specific car models online, and unfamiliar vehicles scouting neighbourhoods.

Social media and websites like Google Street View provide the necessary information, while straw men, garage owners, and providers of special equipment like locksmiths aid in the preparation.

Partners include the EU, Europol, Interpol, central vehicle authorities, media for public awareness, and local community groups like neighbourhood watches.

Strategies include promoting anti-theft measures across the private sector, incentivizing car alarm installations, engaging with manufacturers on vehicle design safety features, imposing stricter requirements on keyless entry systems, targeted ANPR use, and visible LEA presence in theft hotspots.


Vehicle theft is facilitated by low night-time police patrols, large parking areas, the use of VPNs and encrypted apps for communication, and sophisticated technology to bypass anti-theft systems. Access to online resources and tools for car break-ins and the standardisation of cryptographic techniques in cars, though intended for security, also present vulnerabilities.

Deviant patterns in vehicle usage, possession of locksmith or jamming equipment, false license plates, GPS or mobile signal jamming, and activities in known criminal hotspots signal potential theft.

Providers of specialised equipment for car break-ins, criminal networks offering expertise and tools, and easily accessible online resources for vehicle theft.

National police, municipal authorities, EU organisations, private security firms, locksmith associations, car manufacturers and dealers, insurance companies, ICT developers, and local communities all play roles in identifying, preventing, and reporting vehicle theft.

Enhanced European cooperation in crime prevention, increased LEA visibility in theft hotspots, improved information exchange between police and the automotive sector, public education on theft prevention, incentivizing anti-theft measures for car owners, and dialogues with manufacturers to improve vehicle design for security.


Criminals exploit open EU borders for quick escape and the slow mutual assistance process between European LEAs. The well-developed street infrastructure aids in getaways, while distrust between LEAs and the private sector hinders prompt detection. Switching between false license plates, easily obtained online or through criminal networks, helps cover tracks.

Few signals are apparent in this phase, although police systems might flag the presence of known criminals through car identification post-theft.

The main facilitators post-theft include criminal networks and complicit car dealerships, repair shops, or chop shops involved in dismantling stolen cars before storage.

Key partners are insurance companies for anti-theft measures and LEA alerts, private security firms for vehicle retrieval, ICT developers assisting LEAs, and maritime companies checking VINs of embarking vehicles for theft.

Enhancing information exchange between police, automotive industry, and maritime companies, creating monthly lists of frequently stolen models for VIN checks, allowing LEA access to insurance tracking systems, and fostering collaboration between car manufacturers and ICT experts to identify and mitigate risks.


Criminals use readily accessible, anonymous storage spaces and garages, often paying in cash. They exploit legal loopholes allowing garage owners to change license plates and use straw men for rental agreements, with secluded industrial locations providing reduced surveillance.

Key indicators include the use of GPS jammers in storage areas, prolonged parking in unusual locations, and nighttime activities in garages or car repair shops.

Unwitting landlords, cleaners specializing in disabling geolocation systems, garage owners, and straw men renting property for storage purposes facilitate this phase.

National tax and customs administrations, LEAs, labor and social inspection services, and storage facility owners play a crucial role in sanctioning unregistered rentals, identifying suspicious activities, and reporting anomalies.

Strategies include hotspot mapping for pattern recognition, collaboration with CRC and telecom companies to detect signal jamming, regular inspections of car-related businesses, and implementing advanced geolocation systems in vehicles for better tracking and recovery.


The Schengen area’s open borders and ties to other regions facilitate secure, less monitored transport of stolen cars. Criminals exploit busy container traffic, limited customs resources, and criminal networks for transportation, often trading within these networks. Poor working conditions in some Eastern European countries are used to recruit truck drivers, and corruption in African customs also aids transport.

Use of false documentation for vehicles and personal identification, stacked vehicles in lorries or containers, discrepancies in container weight and bills of load, and last-minute additions to shipments.

Customs in African countries lack resources to identify stolen vehicles, while harbours and port authorities play a role in transporting vehicles overseas.

LEAs, customs authorities, vehicle inspection services, and harbour masters can assist in identifying and reporting suspicious activities and conducting diligent checks.

Intensive interregional and international cooperation, enhanced data exchange among border control agencies, EU guidelines to navigate GDPR issues in data collection, inclusion of vehicle theft in PARSEC, installation of jammer detection systems, strict monitoring of shipment weights, and restrictions on changes to shipments prior to departure.


The extensive used car market and high demand for vehicles and parts make motor vehicle crime lucrative. The ease of forging documents and license plates, coupled with the simplicity of blending into legal car trade circuits and exploiting general online marketplaces, facilitates this trade.

Red flags include missing or unoriginal documents, discrepancies in vehicle identification at inspections, suspiciously low prices for parts or vehicles online, cash-only transactions, and anomalies in vehicle licensing.

Key facilitators are online platforms with minimal sale documentation standards, used car and scrap yard owners, and second-hand car dealerships in non-EU countries.

Used car and scrap yard owners can assist LEAs in detecting illegal activities, while national tax and customs administrations may uncover irregularities during audits.

Potential barriers include expanding the Belgian Car-Pass system EU-wide, regular inspections of used car yards, synchronizing Car Pass data with EUCARIS, enhanced marking of vehicles and parts to render them unusable if stolen, an EU-wide cash transaction limit, and improved registration and transparency of damaged cars.


Criminals profit from selling stolen vehicles and parts, often blending into the cash-intensive economy and grey market. The ease of cash transfers and reinvestment of laundered money into legal businesses like car dealerships and repair shops amplifies these profits.

Indicators include a lifestyle inconsistent with official income, frequent cash transactions, inactive businesses serving tax purposes, and discrepancies in financial records.

Accountants, front businesses for money laundering, insurers, and banks unwittingly aid in laundering proceeds from vehicle crime.

National tax and customs administrations detecting tax irregularities, Chambers of Commerce providing company data, financial institutions tracking money trails, and banks employing risk factor analyses and KYC practices.

Enforcing regulations on money transfer services like Western Union, restricting cash transactions within the EU, enhancing asset tracing and confiscation methods, and implementing advanced systems for tracking money trails to prevent financial crimes associated with vehicle theft.