December 26, 2011 was an agonising day for A. Alphonse, a 57-year-old librarian at a private college.

To this day, he regrets having visited the bank branch in Karayanchavadi to weigh 26 sovereigns of gold. The jewellery meant for his daughter’s wedding was stolen from his scooter parked outside a teashop.

Alphonse is one of the many victims of a group of thieves in the city who target residents and steal cash, gold and other valuables from their scooter boxes by breaking them open.

Many such cases have been reported in different parts of the city, but the exact number of the cases cannot be determined as they fall under the category of cases of theft in the city police’s records.

The police said such crimes often take place near banks, finance firms, jewellery showrooms and sub-registrar offices and other places, from where people leave with large amounts of cash or gold jewellery.

Police suspect the thieves may be operating in different parts of the city as gangs or individuals. The thieves follow their targets from banks, jewellery shops or land registration offices and strike shortly after the victims step away from their two-wheelers.

Last December, Rs. 17 lakh kept inside a scooter was stolen after it was parked outside the Madhavaram registrar office. The vehicle owner, Srinivasan (39) of Tondiarpet, had visited the office to register a newly-purchased plot of land and to pay the seller.

“The culprits often do a recce for the crime, break open the scooter box and flee with cash or gold. In some cases, they divert the attention of the victim by stating that something is stuck to his back or on the vehicle and then carry out the theft,” a senior officer with the city police said.

Police have advised people to be wary of such thieves and keep their money and valuables very carefully. “Don’t make it known that you are carrying cash or gold,” said a police officer.

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