Disguised thief cons neighbours

EMMA WHITTAKER
Last updated 05:00 20/02/2013
Nicola Tombs
JASON OXENHAM/ Fairfax NZ
TRADESMAN GAMBIT: Nicola Tomb's continuous hot water system unit was stolen off of her house in the middle of the day, by a man who appeared to be a plumber.

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A brazen daytime robbery has gobsmacked residents after a water heating system was stolen from a Balmoral home by a man pretending to be a tradesman.

Nicola Tombs' $2,500 Rheem continuous hot water system unit was taken  from the side of her home last Wednesday afternoon.

The thief even said ''hello'' to a neighbour while taking the system.

Police said the thief, who was of European appearance and thought be in his 40s, was wearing tradesman-style clothes and witnesses assumed he was one.

Tombs noticed something was amiss in the evening when she tried to run a bath for her daughter and got only cold water.

''I thought 'that's bizarre but I'll wait for my husband to get home'.''

She was ''gobsmacked'' when she went into her garden and discovered the unit was missing.

''It's not immediately obvious from the road; he would have to have been in the property or have been specially looking for it.

''Never assume that just because someone looks like a workman and drives a white van that he is. I can't believe that we're the only people this has happened to. 

''This guy wasn't put off by the fact that the neighbour spoke to him and if he's that brazen he has got to have done this before,'' Tombs said.

Auckland Master Plumbers Association president Bruce Trenwith said it was likely the unit was stolen to order.

He said hot water cylinders and piping had long been stolen and sold as scrap metal but units like the one stolen from Tomb's home don't hold much scrap value.

Trenwith said it would not take much skill to disconnect one.

''I could explain how to do it over the phone, you'd only need a couple of tools,'' he said.

He said there were things people could do to protect themselves and their neighbours from this type of theft.

''Wearing overalls can get you anywhere, people just don't ask questions.

''Look at the finer details. If someone is running a legitimate business they will probably have their van sign written and most master plumbers do.''

He said most companies will also have workers wearing uniforms.

Acting Senior Sergeant Tim Lockwood, of Avondale, said there had been an upsurge in thefts of hot water cylinders and copper pipes.

''Some occupants have been at home and offenders have jumped the fence and ripped off copper downpipes,'' he said. 

''The continuing high commodity prices for metals is a motivating factor in this type of offending.''  

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Lockwood said people should contact police if they see something suspicious and try to gather details like descriptions of the suspects, their vehicles and registration numbers and the direction they travel.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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