Thieves are no longer picking locks or jump starting cars - they are pretending to be tow truck drivers and carting stolen vehicles away on the back of unmarked trucks.
Police are investigating reports of thieves using unmarked tow trucks as an undercover way to steal cars right off the street before dropping them off at wrecker yards.
The technique has been popular overseas in recent years and a convicted Auckland car thief, who spoke to the Herald on the basis of anonymity, said the practice had been used here before.
"Cars that get towed are the cars you can't get the keys to. I know there are a bunch of guys that steal Safaris and Hiluxs, and these types of 4WD vehicles that scrap yards and car yards are willing to take for cash."
Now, it appears the method is gaining traction with people seeing hot cars like Mercedes and Audis being delievered in darkness to wreckers yards and some victims even seeing their cars on the back of tow trucks.
The Weekend Herald has spoken to two Auckland motorists whose Safari 4WD's had been stolen this year, with both victims saying they found them at the same wreckers yard.
One legitimate Auckland truck driver said he tracked his stolen Toyota Hiace van to another South Auckland wreckers yard while it was still on the back of a tow truck.
"I've got a photo of it on the back of a tow truck going to the wreckers," he said.
"I saw it in the yard and I was told to leave it there by police. I told them 'I want my car back, it's on the back of a tow truck'. But police may have been working on something.
"I've stopped driving tow trucks because of these ****holes, because they're giving us such a bad name."
A Facebook page has documented at least 10 different suspicious tow trucks since December 2017, with no company branding on their paint jobs.
"You look at any legitimate tow truck driver, he wears a high-vis vest and his truck's tidy. Look at the state of those trucks on the site and tell me those guys are legitimate," the owner of the stolen Toyota Hiace van said.
Police Detective Senior Sergeant Karen Bright said police were currently "making enquiries" into car theft rings in South Auckland.
"Police have received some reports in the Counties Manukau South area of vehicles that have been stolen, possibly using tow trucks," Detective Bright said.
The convicted car thief said the practice of stealing vehicles using tow trucks was well known, but was considered a last resort among the "shoppers" who boosted cars for gang members.
"The guys with tow trucks that steal cars do it under disguise of towing. To us that would be a last resort when there's no other way we can get [the car we want]," he said.
However, despite the convicted car thief naming gangs with Auckland clubrooms buying the stolen vehicles on a daily basis, police would not confirm any gang involvement.
"Based on the information police have received at this point about these reported incidents, we are not in a position to confirm specific details at this stage, including who may be involved in this offending," Detective Bright said.
Toyota Hiace vans are allegedly targeted in particular by car thieves in the South Auckland region. Photo / Facebook
The owner of a business who operates across the road from one of eight South Auckland wreckers yards accused of buying stolen cars, said he saw tow trucks carrying new cars, such as Mercedes and Audis, entering the wreckers yard after dark multiple times a week.
"There's a couple of 40-foot containers a week go out of there. What's in those containers and where they go I've got no idea," the owner said.
"Not so much now, but we'd have the gangs turning up every Friday afternoon, and there'd be brown paper bags exchanging hands. How obvious does it have to be?
"We've had run-ins with the guys on the tow trucks as well, threats of violence. Every aspect of that business seems to be illegal and they seem to be getting away with it."
The practice of stealing cars with tow trucks has also been reported overseas.
In August 2018, a tow truck stealing a spate of high end vehicles across Manchester was captured on CCTV.
In October 2018, a tow truck stealing cars and stripping them for parts was also reported in the US state of Georgia.
A tow truck reported on Facebook for having no signage in 2018. Photo / Facebook