Police have warned Lunar New Year holidaymakers to protect their homes after property and cash valued at more than HK$40 million was stolen in a spate of burglaries at luxury homes in recent months.
Crime-squad officers say the sophisticated thieves - sometimes a collusion of locals and mainlanders - are using using luxury cars to drive to their targeted location to avoid being stopped at a police road block in exclusive areas such as The Peak.
The gang is also using security cameras to spy on homes to see when they are unattended.
Detective Senior Inspector Peter Chan Kai-fat, of the Crime Prevention Bureau, said people should make sure they securely lock their flats when they went out, especially when they were in so-called Three-Nos buildings: No security guards, no gates and no anti-theft devices.
In a series of burglaries on Christmas Day alone, luxury homes in Tai Tam, Happy Valley, Central and Pok Fu Lam were hit, with a total of at least HK$2 million in valuables and cash being stolen.
The biggest single loss - HK$20 million in jewellery - was at a three-storey block in the Overthorpe estate in Mount Austin Road in November.
Burglars have shown special interest in luxury estates in Repulse Bay, scene of a series of break-ins from June to this month.
The tenant of a property in Repulse Bay Road owned by the chairman of cosmetic group Sasa International, Kwok Siu-ming, lost HK$250,000 in a raid on January 13, after which police caught two suspects from the mainland.
In Tseung Kwan O and adjacent Sai Kung, break-ins involving village houses saw dramatic jumps of 87 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively, last year.
Crystal Choi, daughter of toy magnate Francis Choi Chi-ming, became the latest celebrity victim on January 19.
She, her husband and their baby locked themselves in a bedroom in their three-storey house at The Cove in Chuk Kok Road, Sai Kung, to wait for help while two intruders prowled the house looking for valuables before fleeing empty-handed.
These cases were among 3,573 burglaries in the city last year, and that category of crime had the lowest detection rate. Only 397 cases, or 11 per cent, were solved, with 452 people arrested.
Police said thieves used surveillance cameras to monitor their targets instead of doing their own reconnaissance.
"A device will be fixed outside a house and linked to their mobile phone or tablet computer to monitor when it is left unattended," a veteran crime-squad officer said. "Then they will take the chance to break in."
In two connected cases in Tai Mong Tsai, Sai Kung, in early October, burglars used portable and remote-controlled surveillance cameras to watch their targets for hours before they acted.
Paul Gordon, Sai Kung divisional commander, said the device was low-tech and could be bought cheaply in the Sham Shui Po electronics market. But it was the first time police had seen it used in this kind of crime.
On Christmas Day, a Hong Kong man was nabbed in a Mercedes-Benz in Shouson Hill Road after a house in Red Hill Road in Tai Tam was burgled, while a male passenger ran away.
Police believe the raid was a co-operative effort between mainlanders and locals.
Kwun Tong district commander Keith Chau Cho-kei, whose area includes the Clear Water Bay Peninsula, said he could not yet explain the leap in burglaries of village houses from 76 in 2012 to 142 last year.
"Most cases seemed to be unplanned. Burglars usually look for premises with weak security," he said.
Gordon said 30 per cent of the targeted householders in Sai Kung had not locked their doors and windows properly.