7 unusual items thieves want to steal from you

woman comes home to burgled house

Danny Baggs

Posted October 02, 2023

What do copper wires, dogs and car exhausts have in common? They’re all unusual items in hot demand with thieves, according to Neighbourhood Watch.

While phones, computers, cash, jewellery and bikes are the usual targets for theft, there are less obvious things that thieves want too. Here are seven unusual things being stolen across Victoria right now, so you can keep an eye out and protect your possessions.

Unusual and strange things that get stolen

1. Number plates

"Number plates are the number one item stolen from cars," reports Neighbourhood Watch CEO Bambi Gordon. The Crime Statistics Agency (CSA) reported 15,622 number plate thefts across Victoria in the year ending March 2023: an increase of 960 offences compared to the year ending March 2022.

Number plate theft can include physical removal from your car or virtual cloning from online photos of your car that display its number plates. "They can be used to ‘cloak’ stolen cars used in a number of minor through to serious crimes," Gordon explains. Installing anti-theft screws, parking your car in a locked garage and blurring your number plates in any images of your car will all help to dissuade number plate theft.


man stealing a vehicle's number plate

Number plates are the most stolen item from cars. Image: Getty


2. Car exhaust systems

"Another unusual target for thieves is relatively modern cars’ exhaust systems," Gordon says. These exhausts contain catalytic converters: exhaust emission control devices that control noise, filter dangerous pollutants, and help determine how much fuel needs injecting into the engine. Catalytic converters are made from precious metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium, all of which can be worth more than gold. Since the pandemic reduced mining production in recent years, these precious metal prices have risen even further.

"Thieves are stealing the exhaust from cars parked in driveways, streets, and commuter car parks," Gordon says. Train stations and shopping centre car parks are also top targets. Thieves crawl underneath cars or use a car jack to access the car’s underside, then saw off the catalytic converter using power tools to carry away and sell to unscrupulous wrecking yards.

If you’re wondering whether your car is at risk, any petrol-powered car sold in Australia since 1986 is required to have a catalytic converter fitted. Older models’ catalytic converters typically contain a higher amount of precious metals; hybrid cars’ catalytic converters are generally in better condition because they don’t have to work as hard at filtering pollutants. Pre-2011 Toyota Prius cars are particularly targeted by ‘cat’ thieves because their catalytic converters are easy to access.

If your catalytic converter is stolen, your car will start but will be very loud. It will also drive roughly. It’s illegal to drive a car without a catalytic converter (if it’s designed to have one), so you will have to call for emergency roadside assistance, get it repaired, and contact your car insurance provider to discuss if you are covered.


person removing a car exhaust system

Car exhaust systems contain valuable catalytic converters. Image: Getty


3. Pets

Pet theft, especially dog theft, rose dramatically in step with the Victorian lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 as pet ownership rates soared - and thefts remain high. To keep your own pets safe from theft, you can ensure they are microchipped, use a smart GPS tracker, and avoid leaving your dog tied up outside storefronts.

"Theft of pets is not new, but what has changed is that the theft is no longer reserved for expensive and ‘trendy’ dog breeds that can be sold on," says Gordon. "The theft can also be an outcome of family estrangement."


pet theft table

Pet theft soared in 2020-22 according to the Crime Statistics Agency Victoria. Image: RACV


4. Tyres, wheels, steering wheels and airbags

Car tyres are another popular target for thieves, with luxury car tyres, high-performance tyres and tyres with expensive rims all topping the list. Steering wheels and even airbags are also commonly taken along with the wheels. "Thieves will also steal what would seem to be innocuous items that we wouldn’t think would be worth the effort or the risk – such as loose change, or a pair of sunglasses," Gordon adds.

These kinds of theft are legally termed ‘theft from motor vehicles’. To help prevent car theft, make sure you remove any valuables, lock up your car and park in a locked garage or well-lit, CCTV-covered area.


person removing a car tyre

Car tyres can be removed in a matter of minutes. Image: Getty


5. Copper wiring

There has been a surge in copper cable theft across Victoria since it reached a record-high market price of $14 per kilo in March 2022. The price of copper is currently $13.03 per kilo as of 13 September 2023, maintaining copper wire as a lucrative target of theft. In July this year, Victoria Police arrested an organised crime syndicate that stole more than $780,000 worth of copper from telco infrastructure over at least 50 heists in Melbourne's north.

Thieves have been spotted entering construction sites, ground pits and railway stations to strip out the copper wire, which can sell for $5 to $8 per kilo at dodgy scrap yards and websites.

Copper delivers electricity to homes, public lighting and traffic lights, so its theft can have dire impacts on the local community. It can deprive homes of power, leave dangerous exposed cables in the area, and cause vehicle crashes as streetlights and traffic lights go out. If you witness copper cable theft, call Triple Zero (000) to report the incident. You can also anonymously make a report about a past incident or suspicious activity to Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000. If you encounter exposed copper wiring, do not touch it: you could risk being electrocuted. Instead, immediately contact a power distributor.


large bundles of copper wiring

Copper wire can sell for $5 to $8 a kilo at scrap yards. Image: Getty


6. Vegetables from community gardens and household patches

The rising costs of fruit and vegetables from the local grocer or supermarket have seen a spike in theft of veggies from community gardens and household vegetable patches, according to Neighbourhood Watch. 

To deter theft from your vegetable patch, pick crops as soon as they are ripe. You can also consider dusting growing crops with flour to make them look unappealing to potential thieves. Signage featuring slogans like "Private produce - no harvesting" or images depicting "No picking" may also help to deter people who think your veggie patch is public property.

7. Bricks and other building supplies

Pallet loads of bricks, timber and other building supplies are being stolen from unattended private and commercial building sites, particularly new housing estates. Builders are struggling to source building materials due to shortages, price hikes and shipping delays, leading to an all-time high in demand. Power tools are also being taken from sites due to their high value and easy portability.

CCTV cameras, security patrols and installing tracking devices on high-value items can help deter and catch construction site thieves.


domestic construction site with piles of bricks

Bricks, timber and other building supplies are current theft targets. Image: Getty


How to protect your home, contents and cars

There are two main ways you can protect your possessions from theft: staying vigilant, and installing security systems. You can see how well your home is protected and find out ways to improve your home’s security with the RACV and Neighbourhood Watch initiative How Safe Is My Place.

Theft prevention often involves not keeping your valuables in plain sight and making sure you lock up properly at night or when you go out. Car security on older cars is particularly poor making them a more attractive target for thieves, so think about aftermarket security systems like steering wheel locks or anti-theft screws to your number plates. For your home, security cameras and home alarm systems are major theft deterrents. If you have a bike, learn how to protect it from theft here.

Ensure you also have adequate motor insurance and home contents insurance coverage in place to safeguard against financial loss in the event of theft, and regularly review your coverage to avoid being underinsured.


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The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit racv.com.au. As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Product(s)issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia Pty Ltd ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.

RACV Security Pty Ltd ABN 49 079 148 342 trading as RACV Home Security. Security Licence (Vic.) 733-411-10S and Security Registration (Vic.) 733-411-31S.