Organised gangs of thieves are descending on Leeds to prey on revellers as part of an international trade in stolen mobile phones, the YEP can reveal.
Groups from across the north are travelling to the city centre, especially at weekends, to plunder what they see as “rich pickings”.
Some have connections to eastern Europe and Asia, where phones are shipped after being stolen to order.
Police, who have seen a 43 per cent rise in such incidents in the last two years, say it is the biggest problem they face in the city centre.
Chief Supt Paul Money, commander of City and Holbeck division, told the YEP: “Organised groups are coming into the city centre to target vulnerable people, particularly women, who are under the influence of alcohol. It’s easy for them.
“Some are eastern European, some are North African. We’d never seen before people travelling from as far afield as South Yorkshire, Humberside and Lancashire into Leeds.
“There’s something about Leeds, about the size of the place and the rich pickings available here. It’s the biggest threat for people coming into the city at the moment.”
Home Office figures revealed crime in West Yorkshire fell across the board by nine per cent in the year to September 2012.
But statistics given to the YEP show that, in Leeds city centre, incidents where people have had valuables stolen from bags or pockets rose 43 per cent, from 1,417 in 2010 to 2,040 in 2012.
More than half the offences happened in pubs and clubs.
Chief Supt Money added: “If there’s a particular band playing at the O2 Academy, for example, we know there are going to be youngsters there with high-value electrical equipment and that will attract a certain type of criminal.
“In terms of an organised network, the mobile phones are going out of the country to eastern Europe and India, where they’ll work even if they’ve been blocked in the UK.
“There’s a load of phones being stolen to order. We’re doing work at a higher level to intercept that.”
Police are urging people to download apps such as Find my iPhone and Where’s my Droid to help track lost or stolen phones.