Story: Property crime

In the minds of many, paying cash for a job or file sharing on the internet are not crimes – whereas breaking into a home to burgle it certainly is. Yet the total cost of tax evasion and copyright infringement, together with scams, benefit fraud, insurance fraud and other frauds, outstrip burglary and theft costs many times over.

Story by Carl Walrond
Main image: Cut-up car number plates

Story Summary

All images & media in this story


Theft, burglary, fraud and tax evasion are all known as property crime. Theft is taking something that does not belong to you, and burglary is breaking and entering and taking something that does not belong to you. Fraud is taking something by deceit.

Leaving out traffic offences, property crime makes up about 70% of all crime. Not all crime is reported to police – often because it was committed by a friend or a family member.

When there has been a burglary, blood, hair or body fluid left at the crime scene is analysed and can be checked against a database of criminals and their DNA.

Only around 13% of burglaries are solved by police. Many are committed by young people. Police try to keep them out of jail, instead using fines or crime-prevention courses.

Burglary and theft

The cost of theft in New Zealand in 2003/4 was estimated at $1.2 billion, and burglary at $942 million. Different regions had different rates of crime – in Auckland there were 144 burglaries per 10,000 people in 2004/5, more than in other regions.

Often cars are stolen by young people who take them on joy rides. There are also gangs who steal cars to order, selling their parts, or changing the car’s identity and selling it on.

Many teenagers shoplift but stop when they get older. Large shops have store detectives or surveillance cameras. Shoplifting cost $600–800 million in 2010.


In the early 2000s the government tried to make internet service providers responsible for stopping illegal downloading, but providers did not want to police internet users.

Although downloading material which is protected by copyright is illegal, many people do it.

White-collar crime

Some businesses risk millions of dollars of investors’ money. When Blue Chip property investment company went broke in 2008 it owed $80 million to investors.

Many people pay for work in cash to avoid paying tax. Large businesses employ lawyers to find loopholes in tax laws, so they can pay less tax. In 2009 the four largest banks had to pay $1.7 billion to settle a tax evasion charge.


Some people claim welfare benefits they are not entitled to. The Ministry for Social Development uses data matching to detect benefit fraud.

Insurance fraud is estimated to cost around $150 million a year.

Other types of fraud include internet scams, identity theft and CV fraud (falsely claiming qualifications in order to be paid more). Con artists rely on their charm to get money from people.

Serious Fraud Office

In 1990 the government created the Serious Fraud Office to investigate large-scale fraud. Large businesses can have complicated company structures, and some fraud takes lawyers and accountants years to solve.

How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Property crime', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 September 2018)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 5 May 2011