Contactless credit and debit cards are leading to a spike in youth crime, according to a senior Rotorua police officer, who says children as young as 12 are targeting the cards as "an easy means to obtain craved items".
Area prevention manager Inspector Stuart Nightingale said local police had become concerned about an increase in thefts from cars and houses where contactless cards, such as Visa payWave or Mastercard PayPass, were targeted.
"It appears that a core group of young offenders [aged 12 to 14] are being very active breaking into cars and houses with the purpose of obtaining credit cards for use about the city," he said.
He said the cards, which allowed items to be bought without entering a PIN, provided an easy means for offenders to obtain items quickly before the stolen cards were blocked.
He said within the past two weeks, two thefts from cars and two burglaries had been reported where contactless cards had been taken.
"We have had at least 13 occasions where the stolen...cards have been fraudulently presented.
"The incidents of theft from cars, however, has been featuring for months but it is clear that the targeting of vehicles has moved specifically to obtaining [contactless] cards."
He said the Glenholme area had been subject to a significant volume of crime over the past few months, attributed mainly to youth offending.
"They are looking for wallets which are left in vehicles by the owners and use the...cards as an easy means to obtain 'craved' items."
Mr Nightingale said there had been several recent incidents where juvenile offenders had used stolen contactless cards shortly after a burglary or theft from a vehicle.
He said the stolen cards were generally used at service stations and fast-food restaurants.
"It almost defies belief and common sense that some retailers would accept a [contactless] card for payment at midnight from a 12-year-old boy who is not in the company of a capable guardian," he said.
"I would like retailers to think twice before accepting a [contactless] card for payment when the person presenting it cannot produce legitimate identification as being the holder of that card.
"Let's make it difficult for these thieves to get away with this crime," he said.
New Zealand Bankers' Association chief executive Karen Scott-Howman said contactless payment was generally convenient and secure.
"There's an $80 limit for payments that do not need a PIN. That threshold is intended to provide security. It also means you're less at risk of exposing your PIN to scammers."
She offered advice to those who used the cards.
"Treat your card like cash. Know where it is at all times. If it does go missing, contact your bank immediately.
"If you are a genuine victim of fraud, and have not contributed to the loss, for example by giving away your PIN number, your bank will see you right."
Mobil Clayton Rd owner Mark Gregory said he had decided not to install the contactless feature as he had concerns around security.
"Anyone can get hold of that card and go crazy. We have heard horror stories," he said.
"People spend time going through security footage to try and find these people and I don't have the time to do that."
Mr Gregory said once or twice a week people would try to buy items but when they found he didn't have the contactless feature they left without using the PIN option.