Purse snatching used to be a simple crime of opportunity. But as women across the country are learning now it's often just the beginning of a much more serious crime -- identity theft -- and it's no longer just the local petty thief who's doing it. It's highly organized crime rings.
These thieves are targeting women as they go about their daily routines - stopping at day care centers, gyms, gas stations and supermarkets. Usually they snatch the purse out of the woman's car when she's stepped away for just an instant. It all happens very quickly, and a number of the crimes are caught on tape.
Like this Tape of Mara Giulianti, the Mayor of Hollywood, Florida. As she pumps gas at a local station, a thief pulls up, crouches down, and in seconds has opened her car door and made off with her purse. "I think the thing that shocked me the most was how incredibly quickly he could do it," says the Mayor.
This purse snatching in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Louisiana shows a truly masterful thief at work. As Kristen M. and her mother load groceries into the back of their car, a car swerves toward them, an arm reaches out, and Kristen's purse is snatched from the shopping cart before she has a chance to react. The thief never even stopped his car. Kristen posted her story on You Tube.
Police advise that women carry their purse with them when pumping gas. Wickie, a retiree living in Forida, had her purse snatched at the gas station around the corner from her home. Her door was locked but it only took the thief a moment to smash her window. "I heard this crash and broken glass. And I turned around and this fellow… had the strap of my purse, pulling it through the window of the car and then running to jump in a pickup truck … yelling arriba, arriba!" she explained.
Laura C., who was dropping her daughters off at day care, and Elyce G., who was watching her son's soccer game both learned the same unsettling lesson: the thieves are sitting in parking lots, looking for victims. Elyce hid her purse under a pile of jackets, but the thieves knew exactly where her $1500 Prada purse was. "That was the scariest thing to me. Someone had actually been watching me and watch me get out with my children and walking into the school. And I just felt very vulnerable," Laura said.
i-CAUGHT obtained a copy of a police interrogation, which provides an exclusive behind the scenes look inside this world of crime. One of the crooks, Jennifer New, explains thieves know where to target soccer moms as victims: at gyms, daycare centers all the places they stop during their busy days. "They like Starbucks. Women like to hurry and rush in and leave their purse in the car with the door, you know, open or whatever."
Victims soon learn that the purse robbery is only the beginning. The thieves are after a bigger prize than the valuables inside a purse. Next they steal the victim's identity. Jennifer M. had her purse stolen from school while she was teaching kindergarten. Suddenly her mailbox was full of strange bills and other things. "They received traffic tickets in my name, they opened bank accounts in my name all over South Florida. They went to, um, different stores and they purchased things with checks that had my name on it and address… They went and committed crimes in my name."