ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - A ring of thieves are stealing from women and now men who leave their briefcases and purses behind. There have been more than a dozen victims from Duval to Clay to St. Johns counties.
And it's happened again, this time to four women and two men in one day. Police reports from St. Johns County show they were all targeted on March 3.
We used to think our bank cards and credit cards were the target. But it looks like these thieves have figured out all they need in order to steal thousands of dollars from your bank account is your driver's license.
Carole, who doesn't want her last name revealed, was one those people targeted at World Golf Village last Sunday.
"All the glass was in the seat and on the floor board. And in the center console there is an opening and I put my purse under it thinking it would be out of sight, but it was gone," Carole explained.
But the more than $250 in damage to her new car wasn't the worst of it. It was what the crooks took.
"The entire contents of my purse. My driver's license, my social security card, all my debit cards, my checkbook," Carole said.
Thieves now had everything they needed to steal her identity. It happened while she and her family were inside the IMAX theater at 3 p.m. March 3. Three other cars were smashed there too. Purses and briefcases were taken in a matter of seconds. Two other cars also were broken into outside outside the Seloy Subdivision, also in St. Johns County.
St. Johns County investigators say they think it's the work of the same ring of thieves that has been targeting mostly women who leave their purses outside Fitness Centers, day cares and schools. It's believed that they are using stolen driver's licenses to withdraw money from the victims' bank accounts.
Investigators have surveillance pictures of women they suspect are all working together and targeting World Golf Village along with Julington Creek Plantation.
Carrie is believed to be another victim of this purse theft ring. She was targeted back in January at the recreation center at Julington Creek Plantation around 4:30 p.m.. Carrie explained to us how she thought she had safely hidden her purse in her car.
"It was right here with some clothes over it," she said. "Apparently that wasn't good enough."
Besides Carrie, Channel 4 has spoken with three other women who've had their purses stolen from the same rec center parking lot in Julington Creek.
"I had the 'it's never going to happen to me' feeling," said Carrie. "I can't believe they were going to come back to the same place and do it again."
As we've learned from St. Johns County investigators, the ring of thieves are watching in parking lots frequented by women. When they get out without their purse, the crooks know it's probably inside the car.
Once the crooks have your wallet, investigators say these women dress up like the picture on the stolen driver's license. They then go to the drive-through of the victim's bank and pretend to be the account holder, claiming they don't have the number and then using the driver's license to withdraw thousands of dollars from the victim's accounts.
The women use the drive-through lane that is farthest away, so the teller is unable to see her face to make sure it matches the women in the driver's license photo.
Carole told Channel 4, "One of the deputies, he said it's the economy. You don't leave valuables in your car. It was like lesson learned."
Clay County deputies say on February 20th a woman had her purse stolen at 1 p.m. at the Child's Garden Day Care in Keystone Heights. Just like in the cases Channel 4 has been following all over St. Johns and Duval counties, the Clay county woman's car window was smashed, her purse and jewelry stolen, and then her bank card and ID used by the suspect.
A surveillance photo (pictured, right) shows the stolen ID being used at the victim's bank. The Clay County Sheriff's Office says she was driving a newer-model white Mazda 2. You are asked to call Detective Jermaine Boone at 904-264-6512 with any helpful information on that case.
While the best defense is to always carry your purse and/or briefcase and driver's license with you, if it's stolen, banks advise their customers to notify them not only that their bank information was taken, but also their driver's licenses. Customers can also tell the bank to not allow any bank activity on their accounts from the drive-thru.
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