More thieves are using heavy machinery to steal cash from automated teller machines, with the number of incidents increasing to 57 in 2002 from 48 the previous year, the National Police Agency said Thursday.

Some 330 million yen was stolen last year through such heavy-handed means, the NPA said. The number of incidents also included failed attempts.

All of the cases employed the tactic of destroying ATMs with heavy machinery and moving them to an isolated location, after which the suspects escaped with the money in a separate vehicle. Police suspect that usually at least two people are involved.

The report comes in the wake of increased vigilance by the NPA to combat a wave of this type of crime.

The NPA has urged construction firms to enforce security measures. Police nationwide have also asked managers of construction sites to boost security.

By prefecture, Kanagawa had the most cases with 25, followed by six in Saitama, four in Osaka and three in Ibaraki, Tokyo, Yamanashi and Shizuoka.

The NPA says the heists in Kanagawa Prefecture may have involved a group familiar with the area.

Nine people have been arrested in four incidents. Most have ties with underworld syndicates.

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