Auckland police have uncovered an organised crime ring specialising in the theft of CPUs and hard drives following raids in four cities.
Three men have been charged with burglaries of five premises and one with possession of a pistol. Three more people have been arrested for receiving stolen goods and further arrests are pending.
The arrests came after police executed 28 search warrants on May 6 in Auckland, Tauranga, Taupo and Rotorua, recovering $50,000 worth of stolen goods from a residential property in Taupo. Police also found stolen hard drives in 50 computers that were sold to a Taupo business.
Several of the people whom police believe are involved as burglary organisers or receivers are involved in the computer industry, either assembling and supplying PCs to small businesses, schools and individuals or are in positions of responsibility in large computer companies. Detective James Anderson of the Mt Wellington-based crime control unit says: "We noticed that these sorts of crimes were becoming very well organised so we decided to put full- time staff on to investigating them. We've had $1 million worth of these types of burglaries committed on four premises."
Electronic Resources, a distributor of Intel and Quantum products, was one of the first companies to be hit, losing $500,000 worth of equipment.
Anderson says all burglaries were committed in the same fashion, with the burglars cutting telephone lines before breaking in. In the case of Electronic Resources, burglars disabled telephone lines supplying the entire street, causing $30,000 worth of damage.
"We have investigated at least 20 people but we haven't got the resources to follow through on all of them," says Anderson. "We have targeted people whom we believe are the main operators but we have probably touched only a fifth of the problem."
Apart from Electronic Resources, Auckland resellers and distributors that have been burgled over the past 18 months include Gamma Computers, Solo Drive, JDI, TPG, the now defunct NJS, Ferntech, which has since closed, and Arche Technology.
All resellers and distributors spoken to by Computerworld agreed the items were easy to sell once stolen.
One described the stolen goods as being like gold for thieves, while another pointed out that in a world with ever-decreasing sale prices, using a stolen hard drive saves money, "and the end-user will never know unless a fault develops".
Howard Brangwin, managing director of Solo Drive, describes the spate of burglaries as an "epidemic".
Solo Drive was hit twice by burglaries, both over Christmas. In both cases, the burglars set off the alarm system but persevered, grabbing $24,000 and $14,000 worth of hard drives and escaping before security guards arrived.
Brangwin believes the burglars knew where the components would be stored and has taken steps to make it harder for would-be burglars to find equipment in future. "Our major concern is that sooner or later the insurance companies will refuse to pay out," he says.
Another reseller which has suffered just such a fate was hit three times earlier this year, losing $80,000 worth of hard drives, CPUs and memory.
The general manager (who does not wish to be named) says he has put in added security measures, including high-tech alarms, patrols and safes, but can no longer get insurance. The thieves gained access by smashing the door and cutting the locks.
Parnell-based chip and memory reseller JDI has been burgled once. "When they go through, they research the place thoroughly and know where to hit it and take out very large dollar values very quickly," says managing director Ron Jervois.
While he agrees the arrests might be a deterrent, he believes others will try their luck because of the amounts of money involved. "When you think of it, there's probably $2 million value of goods that have been stolen in the past 18 months."