COLUMBIA, Md. - The shattered glass outside the Top Shape Fitness Center is evidence of one of the many car break-ins attributed to the theft ring.
"I normally don't leave my purse in the car and I tell my daughters, 'Please do not leave your purses in the car, because if somebody come by, they're going to do something... they're going to break your car... break in your car and take your stuff," said Natalie Daniels as she stood near broken glass in the center’s parking lot.
But that’s just the beginning.
A woman who did not wish to be identified told us she’s one of more than a dozen victims bilked out of their money by the same thieves.
"We all went into the gym... three women and came out after our 8:00pm class and all three of our rear windows had been broken into... purses stolen right out of the back seats."
The victims notified their respective banks the next morning, but that didn’t stop the criminals.
"We all knew that our checkbooks had been in there and two of us had checks written to one another."
The criminals use one person’s stolen check and make it out to another victim whose identification they’ve also stolen.
They drained one of the victim’s accounts of $5,000 and wrote bad checks for another $6,000.
"We don't think these are isolated incidents,” said Sherry Llewellyn of the Howard County Police Department, “We've talked with our neighboring jurisdictions and we've talked with other states and we know that people up and down the East Coast... law enforcement agencies are facing the same issues."
It’s believed the same ring struck the Columbia Academy Daycare on Route 108 three times in similar fashion.
The victim says the thieves cash the checks at bank drive-through windows up to $1,000 per pop and use rental cars and wear wigs so they won’t be identified.
Police say women should never leave their purses in their cars, but if they do, they should place them in the trunk so they’re more difficult to steal.
Also, if your purse is stolen, you should report it to your bank and close your account as soon as possible.
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