CRIME gangs are responsible for the bulk of mobile phones stolen from more than 12,000 victims over the past year.
The spate of thefts, which has increased dramatically in recent months, is reckoned to cost well over €5m.
And many of the phones are being taken for sale overseas where they are put on the market at a fraction of their price here.
Gardai issued a pre-Christmas warning yesterday in a bid to reduce the thefts, which have risen by more than a third in two years.
The vast majority of the thefts involved expensive smart phones, worth up to €500 each, which are being targeted by the gangs to meet demands and boost their profits.
Gardai believe eastern European gangs are responsible for a significant portion of the thefts.
Many of the handsets are being quickly shipped overseas where they can be sold off without fear of being detected as stolen property and offered at bargain prices to local customers.
The international gangs and local criminals are also competing on-line to offload the phones.
Gardai have adopted a more co-ordinated approach to tackling the rash of thefts in the wake of figures showing that the number of phones reported lost or stolen during the second quarter of this year had increased to 6,949 – a rise of 14pc on the corresponding figure for 2012.
A number of targeted garda operations have met with some success and have led to the recovery of 857 mobile phones between January and the end of June. This represents an increase of 47pc on the seized haul of 583 for the corresponding period last year.
Gardai made a substantial seizure through monitoring a website where stolen phones were being offered for sale.
Officers identified a Romanian gang as the masterminds of the scam and swoops on 10 addresses in Tallaght and one in a Dublin city centre premises resulted in the seizure of 23 phones, including iPhone 5s and Galaxy S4s.
Also recovered were stolen laptops, sim cards and other equipment. Another search on a southside apartment yielded 47 mobile phones as well as four laptops and several watches.
Highlighting the need for owners to take greater care, crime prevention officer, Sgt Alan Roughneen said: "All too often we see smart phones, worth hundreds of euro, being left out on tables in bars, nightclubs, cafe or restaurant tables while people chat.
"This makes it very easy for criminals to simply walk past and steal them. People should also avoid using their phones while walking on the street as it means they are distracted and won't be able to react to prevent the device being taken in mid-sentence."
Gardai appealed to users to register their phones with their service provider and take note of their unique IMEI (international mobile equipment identity) number, which should then be stored in another location.
Gardai are also backing a call by the authorities in the UK and the US for an industry standard "kill switch", which would be effective in disabling phones in various jurisdictions.