Thieves save on storage costs with steal-to-order policy

A friend described landlords as "greedy, blood-sucking vultures", causing me to immediately make a note for the Mixed Metaphor Police. I pointed out that he himself was a landlord. "Exactly," he said. "That's how I know."

Like every decent human being, I think being a landlord is a crime which should be punishable by death. So I was delighted to hear that these moneygrubbers are being bypassed by one particular profession: thieves. An increasing number of burglars are offering "steal-to-order" services, cutting out storage costs.

I learned this from a Tokyo-based business executive who was clearly impressed by the thieves' professionalism, momentarily forgetting, as business executives do, about the troublesome existence of the law, morality, and the like.

He sent me a cutting about a Tokyo thief who specialized in breaking into people's backyards and taking photos of sports bicycles. The thief posted the pictures on internet sales sites. Whenever a buyer offered a good price, he would steal-it-to-order.

After a long period of success, he was caught last week when he took so many bikes from a single victim that a detective was assigned to the case. The cop did an internet search to see if the bikes were for sale -- and was astonished to find they'd all been advertized and sold BEFORE being stolen.

In a wonderful example of synchronicity, a Britsh reader sent me a cutting about a woman caught shoplifting in the town of Spalding a few days ago. She was carrying four shopping lists, each in different handwriting. Yes, another case of stealing-to-order.

Then a reporter colleague told me about a gang of god thieves in China. They took photos of idols (stone ones, not singers) in Chengdu and Meishan which they circulated to antique collectors. When bids were made, the thieves would wait for bad weather. "They usually stole the statues on rainy days, when the supervision of authorities was found to be more lax," the Huaxi Dushi Bao newspaper reported. A drop of rain would fall, screaming guards would flee for shelter, and the thieves would set to work. With careful timing, they god-napped 300 deities with no warehousing costs before they were caught last year.

When I was a young reporter in Hong Kong, a police unit called the Serious Fraud Squad uncovered a massive ring of steal-to-order salad thieves. The villains asked restaurant buyers for their daily requirements of bak choi, lettuce and broccoli and then made targeted veggie-heists at fresh food markets. (Oddly, this has never been made into a movie.)

But perhaps the most daring case of stealing-to-order is one taking place in Britain right now. Police last week warned householders in the town of Alsager that thieves have been locating homes containing dogs and then painting a "K" (short for "K9", as in "canine") on the front of them. Once buyers are found, thieves steal the dogs.

Reporting the thefts must be embarrassing. VICTIM: "My house has been robbed." COP: "Have you thought about getting a guard dog, sir?" VICTIM: "That's what they stole."

Thank you for reading this column. Now kindly forget it. If I am having an off-day in a year or two, and need to re-use something, I may steal it.

(28-06-2013-Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. Send ideas and comments via He can be contacted at


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