THE heart-warming sight of an old-fashioned burglar smashing a toilet window could soon be swept away by a rising tide of joyless online fraud, according to some of Britain's leading thieves.
As electronic goods become increasingly affordable and pawnbrokers more stringent in their ID checks, many burglars have been forced to try impersonal, 'office-based' scams such as bank security emails and fake Nigerian slush funds simply to keep a stolen roof over their heads.
Under the City of London guild system, apprentice burglars spent five years with a ring leader, who taught them key skills such as agility, shotgun adaptation and coshing.
Master thief Roy Hobbs said: "People used to look forward to having their door kicked in by a stripy-jumpered rascal who would cheerily turn their house upside down in a diligent search for irreplaceable family treasures.
"And if you caught him on the job he might lock you in a wardrobe or give you a playful bonk on the head. But he'd always do it in a cheeky way, like Mr Punch or one of the Great Train Robbers."
He added: "For the householder it provided an exciting break from their everyday routine and because most of them would eventually get over the head trauma, it was, essentially, a victimless crime."
Martin Bishop, from Doncaster, said: "Last New Year's Eve we were visited by a burglar who stole my all kids' Christmas presents, my passport and even managed to have a sneaky wank into my wife's knicker drawer.
"We told the kids that Santa had turned into a prick. They absolutely loved it."