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Dublin: 6 °C Sunday 23 February, 2020

Organised criminals using fitness apps to track expensive bicycles and equipment, gardaí believe

In particular, areas around the Sally Gap in Wicklow, Lamb’s Cross, Stepaside and Djouce have all been targeted.

Image: Shutterstock/aodaodaodaod

CRIMINAL MUGGING GANGS have started to use fitness applications on phones to track people using expensive equipment in their workouts, has learned. 

Applications such as Strava allow users to upload the routes they take, the equipment they use, and photographs, in a similar way to Facebook and other social media platforms. 

There has been a marked increase in both reported and unreported attempts of bike theft in the Greater Dublin Area in the last 12 months. 

In particular, areas around the Sally Gap and Djouce in Wicklow and Lamb’s Cross and Stepaside in Dublin.

Gardaí believe that using applications such as Strava, without taking the proper security precautions, is allowing organised criminals target those who are using expensive racing bikes.

The fact that they are uploading their route also informs the prospective thieves of what routes they take regularly. There is also a place where you can tell friends what equipment you are using. 

For instance, after a quick scan of the app we were able to determine where a cyclist travels, what bike they are using and how often they take that route. In one case, we were able to search one person’s equipment and within one minute ascertain that the bike they were using was worth €2,100. 

In one incident in the Sally Gap in Wicklow last August, one cyclist was flagged down by a group of men who had appeared to have broken down. However, when the cyclist stopped, the men attempted to rob him. 

Latest figures obtained in a parliamentary question last year revealed that around 18,000 bikes were stolen in Ireland between 2016 and 2018. Of those, just 11% were recovered.

The stats also detail that despite there being almost 5,500 incidents of the unauthorised taking of a bike in 2018, only 272 resulted in court proceedings, down on the previous two years.

Gardaí have had some success in recent months, however.  Officers seized more than a hundred stolen bicycles from a shipping container in Dublin. Gardaí from Pearse Street seized the bikes after carrying out a search at an allotment in Newcastle, Dublin. Gardaí valued the seizure at around €250k. The use of phone applications in these particular thefts are being investigated.

Police in Lancashire in the UK also confirmed they were investigating the use of apps in relation to serial bike thieves. 

Sergeant Kirstie Whyatt near Blackpool in England late last year told UK media: “We are looking closely at the apps and phoning victims to see if they might have been using them. We are also considering whether thieves are looking out for cars with bike carriers.”

“This is a big problem across Lancashire. What has become clear is the way criminals are changing their behaviour. They are not taking any old bike. They are after cycles of high value.”

A spokesman for Strava said: “Strava hasn’t seen any verified cases of bicycle theft related to our platform. However, we encourage all of our members to be aware of what they share on all types of social media. Our platform has a suite of tools to help control what you share, including privacy zones, which will hide the start and end points of your activity if they fall within the zone.” 

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