Police Investigate ‘Felony Lane' Identity Thefts

Crime ring targeting women at parks and other public places

A crime ring is targeting women at parks and other public places by stealing their purses and cashing in quickly.

Thieves are going community centers and parks, such as South Germantown Recreational Park, and bashing in windows to steal purses left within view. They then take debit cards or checks to nearby banks to get cash before the victims have a chance to find out what's happened, reports News4's Erika Gonzalez.

Montgomery County Police dubbed the method "felony lane" because the thieves often use banks’ drive-through teller lanes to avoid scrutiny. Many wear disguises that would be more easily detected up close, they said.

"They've been known to recruit a female... and then have this female either wear a wig or some other disguise in order to look like the person on the photo identification that they're using," said Officer Janelle Smith of the Montgomery County Police.

The thieves generally work in teams, using a large van in the drive-through teller lane nearest the bank to block the view of the last lane, Gonzalez reported.

In that last lane, another scammer will write out a check and send it through the carrier tube, requesting as much cash as possible.

However, security cameras have managed to capture images of some of the drivers. One woman was even bold enough to go inside the bank to make a withdrawal.

Unlike unauthorized credit card charges, when someone steals money by illegally writing a check on your bank account, it is gone, News4’s Jackie Bensen reported.

The thieves often use rental cars, switching out after the original purse theft, so they can't be tracked to the bank, police said.

Howard County police have said they’ve noticed an uptick in this type of crime, too. In the eight cases reported in Howard County since December, the victims lost between $700 and $1,000 each, Bensen reported.

"What we think is these criminals are watching women get out of their cars and see they have no bag, see it wasn't put in the trunk,” said Sherry Llewellyn of Howard County police. “They smash a window, they get in and out as fast as they can, and the purse is gone.

The thieves are believed to have struck up and down the East Coast.

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