LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Little Rock police say a Florida-based identity theft gang has surfaced in Arkansas. It targets women who leave their purses in their cars. Across the country, there's been dozens of arrests and hundreds of victims.
There's been arrest after arrest. It's a large organized crime ring with no signs of slowing down. "Most of them obviously happen in the middle of the night," said Little Rock Police auto theft detective Paige Cline.
Cline first heard of the Felony Lane Gang in 2011 when the suspects, who are based out of Florida, started sweeping the country.
"By the time you figure out the pattern of what they're doing they're up and gone again," explained Cline.
Many of the crimes have been caught on camera. It's a group of several men and women who police say break into vehicles, stealing checks, driver's licenses, credit cards, and debit cards.
The Felony Lane Gang got its name because the suspects often use the drive-thru lane farthest from the teller. The crooks often conspire with homeless people and prostitutes dressing them up in wigs to look like the victim's ID.
Cline added, "Thieves are looking for anything."
There have been arrests in Colorado, Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and now Arkansas. Dozens of those victims are in Little Rock. She made two arrests two months ago.
"I think people by nature think this world is great and fine and the fact is it's not," said Cline.
So THV 11 decided to experiment at UALR and in Little Rock's River Market.
With UALR's permission, out of the 50 cars we checked, 9 were prime targets for a break-in. We caught it all in plain sight; everything from wallets, to purses, to a GPS, an MP3 player and even a laptop.
Downtown, we looked in 42 cars. Seven failed the test. We found more purses and backpacks out in the open for anyone to steal.
Cline said, "A thief can break into a multitude of cars in a short period of time, break in them and then they are gone."
Just ask Debi Pongetti.
"Its' just been a nightmare," she said.
Last month, Pongetti's car was broken into at 9 a.m. at the Arkansas Skatium. She tucked her purse under the seat and was inside for less than 10 minutes.
"We've got about $10,000 worth of hot checks out."
They were written at various locations in Little Rock, Hot Springs, and Pine Bluff. Her GPS and handgun were also stolen. The thieves even made a fake driver's lisence in Pongetti's husband's name to make cashing checks easier.
"I don't know where to sort anymore," said Ponjetti looking through a stack of police reports and copies of hot checks.
While police don't believe her case is connected to the Felony Lane Gang, detectives said it's still the perfect example of what can happen when you leave personal belongings out.
"On each individual check I have to go to the bank, get a fraudulent affidavit, get it notarized, get a copy of the police report. All this for one check. "I'm sick of it," said Ponjetti.
Back with Cline, "You have your life in your purse."
She said the easy fix is to lock it in your trunk. It's a common sense reminder to keep you from becoming a victim.
"It will turn your life upside down for a period of time."
Little Rock police are working with the FBI to make more Felony Lang Gang arrests.
Meantime, if your car is ever broken into, there are five things you need to do right away:
1. Always file a police report.
2. Call the insurance company immediately.
3. Secure your personal information to prevent identity theft.
4. Replace the glass as soon as possible.
5. Report stolen items to your homeowners or renters insurance.