The recent news reports about thefts from parked cars makes me wonder if a criminal gang that was active in other states a few years ago has started to operate in Maine.
Known as the “Felony Lane Gang” and responsible for the theft of millions of dollars, the original group operated out of Florida. It’s a syndicate of thieves across states that target vehicles hoping to steal checkbooks, credit cards and identification. This accomplished, forged checks with id are cashed at a drive up bank teller window in a highly profitable form of identity theft.
Since they always use the drive through lane that is farthest from the teller in the hope that distance makes it harder to identify them, law enforcement named them the “Felony Lane Gang.”
They went quiet for a few years after the U.S. Attorney’s office in several states successfully brought charges against the gang’s leaders around 2014. But in 2016, a version of the gang became active in Louisiana, and since late 2018 and early 2019, more FLG-type incidents are being reported across the U.S.
Which brings us to the recent reports of wallets and handbags stolen from cars in Maine and what you might want to know.
FLG crimes are not the typical one-off theft of a purse or wallet from a car. The criminals operate as a crew and are surprisingly smart about what they do, how they operate and the number of participants involved.
Different members have different jobs on the crew. Some are check cashers, others break into the vehicles. Still others may be involved in creating the forged checks.
A few years back, my business trained law enforcement in Felony Lane Gang activities, among other types of identity theft. Here’s what we told police:
- Gang members know that you don’t bring your wallet or purse into the local day care to drop off or pick up your child and that you probably don’t lock your car while you’re doing this.
- They know that you usually will leave a purse or wallet in your car while you are working out at the gym or attending your child’s sporting event. So they wait in parking lots for you to leave your car. Whether it’s locked or unlocked, they will try to steal anything that could be used to get cash.
- Don’t think this is a men-only syndicate. The gang members include women who don wigs and other disguises to avoid being identified when they cash forged checks at the drive through window.
- Crew members may be recruited from prostitutes, drug addicts, or the homeless. Rental cars are used and the crew members usually travel hundreds of miles (sometimes up to a thousand miles) from their home base to commit crimes.
In one instance after an FLG member was caught, police found a large number of stolen checks, passports, identification cards and other items belonging to 20 victims from Virginia to South Florida.
And it’s quick and profitable. A police report noted, “...several motor vehicle burglaries at fitness centers. Withdrawals were made at several bank locations in Southern New Jersey. The female suspect was able to get a total of $18,600.00 from eight bank locations in four hours.”
Thankfully, most of us don’t live in a high crime area. But it’s good to know that some criminals are waiting to take advantage of our relaxed approach to security. Next time you’re tempted to leave your handbag or wallet in your car – whether locked or unlocked – remember that there may just be someone nearby hoping you will do just that.
Jane Carpenter is the author of reference manuals for law enforcement and a member of the FBI-sponsored InfraGard organization.