Waterloo Region police have responded to 15 reports of stolen catalytic converters in Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo in the last week.

The catalytic converters are being stolen from vans and commercial vehicles parked in industrial areas.

The areas targeted so far include the Colby Drive and Davenport Road areas of Waterloo, Victoria Street in Kitchener and Franklin Boulevard in Cambridge.

Waterloo Region police spokesperson Olaf Heinzel says "It appears someone or some people may be getting underneath these vehicles and then using a tool to remove them from the vehicle and leaving."

The converters change carbon monoxide into less toxic emissions before they leave a vehicle's exhaust system and are likely ending up at scrap metal dealers.

Amichai Tsarfati at Joseph & Company Recyclers says "People are probably getting $50 a unit on average, pretty crazy."

The value of the platinum and gold content in the converters is likely what's attracting thieves, and Tsarfati says the economy likely has a lot to do with it.

"There's always been theft but definitely there's a lot of people with a lot of time on their hands and with needs they have to put food on the table."

As with other metals like copper, prices for the metals in the converters have increased substantially in the last few years.

And police say the thefts of catalytic converters are happening in a number of southwestern Ontario communities.

The thefts are reportedly occurring overnight and police are reminding people to lock their vehicles and park in well lit areas where possible.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 519-653-7700 Ext. 3385 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.