Police believe 130 manhole covers missing from local roads may have been stolen for scrap.
Some drain covers can be worth several hundred pounds
The drain and road gully covers have all disappeared within the past week in Aberdeenshire.
A recent rise in scrap metal prices has increased the value of the missing items to at least £13,000.
Police said that the holes left behind when covers are stolen could cause accidents. Several fatalities in China have been blamed on similar thefts.
The thefts in the north east of Scotland follow similar incidents in the past few months in Gloucester, West Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire.
Grampian Police crime prevention officer Constable Andrew Jamieson said the force had received numerous reports from Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council complaining of thefts of the covers.
In some cases, 3ft holes have been left in the road and the largest of the covers can fetch up to £700.
Constable Jamieson said: "We would suspect that the majority of these covers have been taken to be sold on for scrap.
"There is the real potential that motorists or innocent pedestrians' lives could be at risk and I would appeal to members of the public to contact Grampian Police at the time if they see persons acting suspiciously on the roadways and tampering with the drains or cast iron gullies."
Constable Jamieson said the police were contacting scrap merchants
Chris Dall, a road services officer with Aberdeen City Council, said he was angered by the thefts.
Mr Dall said: "I'm actually outraged that people could be so insensitive as to actually remove these covers and leave the public at such a risk."
Internationally, China has reported a particularly severe problem of manhole cover theft.
In Shanghai, 1,500 covers have gone missing since the start of February, and the thefts have been blamed for at least eight deaths in the past year.