English gangs are thought responsible for a growing number of cross border raids on Welsh further and higher education institutions for their RAMs - not the woolly sort, but personal computer random access memory chips and central processor units.
At least one Welsh college has taken positive action to make its chips worthless if stolen to order. The loss of manufacturing capacity for chips following the Kobe earthquake and a leap in demand for computers with a bigger memory after the introduction of Microsoft's Windows 95 has led to theft-to-order of high capacity RAMs and fast CPUs.
Dyfed-Powys police believe thefts of chips from University College Aberystwyth and neighbouring institutions were planned 70 miles away across the English border by thieves who knew exactly which personal computers to break open.
South Wales police, who reported nearly Pounds 3 million of computer thefts last year have called for a security system which can permanently encode chips with the identity of the legal owner, to be flashed up on the screen of any computer to which the chip may later be fitted.
Other than Aberystwyth, all the Welsh colleges that have been raided recently are all located near the main motorway and link roads network. The most recent raid closed Merthyr college earlier this month, with classes for 3,500 students cancelled. Chips worth around Pounds 10,000 were taken, but damage to equipment upgraded less than a week earlier was estimated at ten times the value of the chips.
Merthyr Tydfil is near the main Heads of the Valleys road link to the English midlands. College assistant principal Dilwyn Byles said the thieves knew what they were after, and took "state of the art computer components".
South Wales police said Methyr's raiders simply walked in when the college was open on a Monday evening and left early the following morning before the cleaners arrived. Damage to the college's computers was so extensive that the college was forced to close all courses but two for the rest of the week. Cardiff and Swansea colleges in the University of Wales have been hit repeatedly, as well as Cardiff Institute.
A Gwent Institute spokesman said the institute was taking security seriously although it had not been raided. As well as a recently upgraded security card entry system and closed circuit video surveillance, chips inside computers have been etched with an identifying mark and coated with a chemical solution which will also lead to their identification.