Western Bay of Plenty police have identified the three most targeted suburbs in Tauranga after a spate of car break-ins over the past six months.
Thieves have been seeking out unlocked vehicles in Arataki, Pyes Pa and Pāpāmoa East.
Personal effects were being targeted but the biggest prize for thieves appeared to be payWave cards.
Western Bay of Plenty Neighbourhood Support manager Bruce Banks said thieves could do a "horrendous" amount of damage to people's bank accounts in a short time.
Stolen money is often used to buy liquor, cigarettes, and petrol but the cards would be used for just about anything, he said.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the spending limit on a single payWave transaction was increased from $80 to $200.
"It's easy money, you just keep doing it until it runs out," Banks said.
A spokesperson for Western Bay of Plenty police confirmed there had been an upswing in theft from vehicles in the past six months, but would not supply specific numbers.
Victims often left their vehicle unlocked or had valuables in plain sight of anyone peering through the windows, the spokesperson said.
Although the police were working hard to try and catch thieves, the spokesperson asked the community to help them.
"We encourage anyone whose vehicle is broken into, or has items stolen from their vehicles, to report the matter to police via 105 as soon as possible," they said.
"This allows us to analyse what is happening and where to ensure we know where to deploy our staff.
"But we can't be everywhere. We need the community to work with us and let us know if they see something that is out of the ordinary, unusual or suspicious."
Victims include a Welcome Bay father-of-two, who would not be named, who had nearly $3000 of power tools and personal items stolen from his Toyota Hilux ute about three weeks ago.
The theft was caught on a neighbour's CCTV camera, which the man thought showed a coordinated and systematic operation.
"There were two people in a vehicle with another person walking behind as they drove along the street," the man said.
"The man walking helped load stolen items into their vehicle. The offenders were clearly targeting particular items, as they searched a bag of tools and left some of them behind."
He told the Bay of Plenty Times he had left his vehicle vulnerable to attack because of "forgetfulness and a bit of naivety" but had reported the theft to the police.
"I'm quite saddened some people feel they have to resort to doing this to support their families," he said.
"My tools can be replaced but it's the emotional impact that leaves you feeling a bit unsafe in your own community."
At Mount Maunganui, Nathan Menefy said he knew half a dozen people in the wider city whose cars were broken into during the past few months.
Overnight on Sunday, his partner's car on Miro St was targeted and her wallet and a Bluetooth speaker worth about $200 stolen.
"She didn't get any money taken out of her account, she was pretty lucky. It was a bit of a bummer but she's lucky she's got money to sort out that window," Menefy said.
A neighbour's car had also been broken into - both were older models and had rear windows smashed.
Menefy thought the level of crime in the area had increased recently, having heard about car break-ins on social media often and from friends.
Last week, a $2000 mountain bike was stolen from his carport that he hasn't been able to track down.
Senior Sergeant Eddie Lyttle, the Western Bay of Plenty's area response manager, said anecdotally, there had been a significant increase in thefts from cars across the district.
Keep your belongings safe
Any crimes taking place in the present needs an emergency response call through to the 111 phone line and if it has already happened, call 105.
"Thieves are often opportunistic. If you can eliminate the opportunity, you reduce your chances of being a victim," the spokesperson said.
• Lock your vehicle;
• When you park and get out of your vehicle double check what you are leaving behind and what can be seen. Remove items like your bag, keys, phone, charger, wallet, loose coins, gym shoes, laptop or tools;
• If you can't remove it, make sure it is totally out of sight;
• Think about where you are parking. The best-case scenario is in a garage or off the street. If you can't manage this, then at least ensure it is in a well-lit area;
• Install a security system – this can include anti-theft systems like an old-school steering wheel lock through to an alarm system.
- additional reporting Sandra Conchie