Mid Ulster has become a hotspot for cigarettes thefts, and shopkeepers have been warned to guard against overnight raids.
The warning from the PSNI comes aftera substantial quantity of cigarettes was stolen from a shop in Bellaghy at about 3.30am last Thursday morning.
Police say this was the fourth incident of its type in the Mid Ulster area in the past four weeks. Other areas have also be affected.
Chief Inspector Tony Callaghan, the Magherafelt Area Commander, said: “We believe criminal gangs are targeting shops for raids, most of which take place in the early hours of the morning.
He added: “Their methods are similar in each case. They force their way into shops and then steal cigarettes from display cabinets.
“Each incident can result in a significant financial loss for the shopkeepers, not just in their stock, but in damage to property.
“We are advising proprietors to remove large stocks of cigarettes from the main part of their shops at night and place them in a secure store.”
And police are also asking people who live near shops to report any suspicious vehicles they see in the early hours.
Just last week, a shop at St Patrick’s Street in Draperstown, was also targeted by thieves who broke in shortly before 3.00am.
Information on thefts can be given to police on the 101 non-emergency number, or to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
For a crime in progress, dial 999.