THE time-honoured tradition of stashing the car keys behind the wheel is costing Hunter beach goers thousands of dollars a year.
Thieves have targeted dozens of cars where the key has been easily found near the vehicle in recent weeks.
Observant thieves have also been watching beachgoers who leave their valuables on the beach while they go swimming.
Computers, iphones, jewellery and money are among the most popular items taken.
‘‘Officers have observed a number of people secreting their keys around their cars in recent weeks, which is a real concern.’’ Newcastle City crime prevention officer Senior Constable Jeff Milton said.
‘‘Driving a keyless vehicle means you can’t take your keys into the water with you but it’s worth the extra effort to keep them safe.’’
Senior Constable Jeff Milton suggested beach goers use lockers, where available, to store valuables.
‘‘Some beaches [such as Nobbys] have free lockers where you can leave your things,’’ he said.
An NRMA spokeswoman Tracy Woodley said 6am to noon was the most popular time for car thieves to target beaches.
‘‘Thieves are opportunistic and it only takes a few minutes for someone to step away from their car or gear for a swim for a thief to swipe their valuables and car keys,’’ Ms Woodley said.
Previous NRMA Insurance research has shown the most popular places for hiding valuables on the beach were obvious locations such as in a towel (45 per cent), shoe or sock (43 per cent) or in clothing pockets (38 per cent).