An incident last week left the residents of a small Essex village in England reeling.
Mark Thomas, a builder, and his worker were unloading his van when suddenly the engine started and it zoomed off.
In the driving seat was a man who had been watching them from nearby. Mr Palmer managed to follow the van, but the man escaped after he crashed it.
According to the police crime map, launched online earlier this month for people to see the offences in their local area, this village is impressively untouched by crime.
But brazen robbery such as that of Mr Thomas's van seems to be getting more common across the UK in these hard times. Villages are reporting a rise in domestic heating oil being syphoned from tanks in gardens, cars in driveways being broken into and tools stolen from garages and tool sheds.
The crime is not limited to theft and burglary. In the city, restaurants are being struck by a rising number of bill-dodgers - diners who disappear without paying for their meals. In London alone, there were 330 reported cases last year, a 33 per cent rise over 2009 and the first time it has broken the 300 mark. The victims include those frequented by the capital's rich and famous.
But the most prevalent of these "austerity crimes" is metal-stripping, which, thanks to the soaring prices of commodities such as copper and lead, is a global problem. Metal theft is becoming "endemic" according to the UK police. Nothing seems to be sacred: schools, heritage sites, war memorials and even churches have been struck by thieves who sell their loot as scrap metal. Steptoe and son, the fictional rag-and-bone selling television characters, would have been appalled.
Churches across the country have been raided for their lead roofs - some several times over - despite the installation of anti-theft devices, with thieves using the Google Earth online mapping facility to pinpoint their targets. The problem has become so bad churches fear they will become uninsurable. The cost of claims rose 70 per cent to £3.3 million (Dh19.7m) last year from 2009, 10 times the cost five years ago, according to Ecclesiastical Insurance, which provides cover for most church buildings in the UK.
Cases of stolen catalytic converters - for their small amounts of platinum - from car exhausts have also been rising. In one incident in Surrey, a county outside London, thieves managed to walk away with £40,000 worth of catalytic converters from almost 50 vehicles parked overnight at an industrial estate.
But it is the theft of copper that is causing the greatest collateral damage and official concern. With insatiable Chinese demand and a tight supply, the metal is a favourite among thieves whose best "sources" are railway and electricity cables, which are stripped for the copper inside.
The rate of theft appears to correspond with the price of the metal. Last month, when copper sold for £6,200 a tonne, rail-cable theft doubled compared with January last year.
Metal thefts are costing the UK some £770m a year, according to a BBC report. But the issue is about more than economics. Each time cables are stolen, it not only costs the railway company thousands of pounds, it disrupts the travel plans of thousands of commuters.
The impact is more pernicious when a power station is hit. In several cases, offenders had to be taken to hospitals after suffering electric shock when they tried to cut through high-voltage electric lines. Blackouts cause misery to thousands of households, especially in winter, but the main fear is their potential fatal impact on the old and the sick.
So serious is the problem that a police task force has been launched to tackle it. The British Transport Police say cable theft has become their biggest challenge after terrorism.
With more job cuts looming and proposed welfare reforms set to hit benefit payments, thieving Britons must certainly be on the government's priority list. Whether it's the eat-and-dash diner or the disappearing manhole on the street, or the theft of rail cable, these perpetrators are costing the economy millions of pounds a year.
The latest police data show that overall crime dropped by 5 per cent in the year to September. All eyes will be on this year's figure.