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December 10, 2010

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Wily thief steals car number plates in suburbs

TREMBLING in the chilly weather, a group of residents from a suburban complex took a day off work to wander around the complex's gardens, looking into bushes and sewers - they were searching for their car plates, which had been stolen.

Seventeen car owners at the Gonghe Complex in Baoshan District found their car plates missing yesterday morning when they were about to go to work.

Small notes with the thief's cell phone number have been left on their car windows - the notes read: "Want your car plate back? Then Give me a call."

Some anxious victims immediately called the thief, who asked for a ransom of 300 yuan (US$45) and told them to deposit the money into his bank account - others reported the theft to the police.

It was not until one of the car owners accidentally found his car plate hidden under a big rock in a garden that someone thought of a community-wide "plate hunt," with car owners, policemen, security guards and even complex cleaners working together to comb every corner for the missing plates.

Some were successful as four car plates were found.

"The thief was not foolish, he hid the plates right in the complex so he could simply send the locations to us if we delivered the money," said a victim, surnamed Wu, "He doesn't have to show up during the whole process, so the police can't catch him."

Local police are watching the complex in case the thief strikes again, said an officer, surnamed Wu, at the Gaojin police station.

"We are still tracking him via his cell phone number," said Wu, "The number has been used in another similar case in Baoshan. We believe the suspect is a habitual criminal."

According to the victims, the thief only stole non-local car plates because it is more difficult for car owners to reapply for the plates - they have to go to the provinces or cities where they first registered with the plates - so the victims are more likely to pay the ransom.

Residents said a similar theft had occurred in the past few years and they believed it was down to poor security that allowed the thieves to remain at large.

The complex only has two security guards at the entrances, and there are no single closed-circuit security cameras.


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