Thieves smashing windows and grabbing what they can from people's cars, but they're not using those stolen credit cards to go on a shopping spree. It's the work of a national crime ring that showed up in Wisconsin. The scheme is so elaborate, that at one point, victims can also be the suspects.
These thieves target women. They sit and watch, staking out busy parking lots at gyms, grocery stores and big events. It looks like a bunch of isolated incidents, but police say it's really a complicated crime ring.
Alicia Badtke-Branz was at a water ski show in Janesville when someone broke into her car, "I looked at the window, and I said 'oh my God, the window's broke.' " Alicia told us the first thing she did was look for her purse. It was gone. She expected the criminals to go on a spending spree, "going to a store and using my credit card right away, which they didn't."
Instead the suspect went to Alicia's bank. "They put on a wig, a blonde wig parted on the side like I have my hair," Alicia pointed out. Police have surveillance video of the woman in the drive-thru. She was trying to disguise herself as Alicia. The suspect reportedly used another Wisconsin victim's stolen checkbook, writing a forged check for $3,000. It was made out to Alicia Badtke-Branz.
Terry Sheridan is a Lieutenant with Janesville PD. He told us, "it gets to be quite an extensive web." Lt. Sheridan said at first they didn't connect the rash of car break-ins. "Quite often the cases are not linked up right away, and it takes some time. They'll start doing some quick hits trying to get as much cash as they can."
Lt. Sheridan pointed out these crimes match the M.O. of a national band of thieves called the Felony Lane Gang. The name comes from the third, and furthest drive-thru lane at the bank; the on these criminals use. "They wanted to create some distance between the actual bank teller and themselves in case the physical description is a little bit off," Lt. Sheridan explained.
Right now detectives only have images of a female suspect who has allegedly withdrawn money from banks in Janesville, Monona, Delavan and Algonquin, Illinois.
Alicia's information was only used once; the suspect left the stolen ID at the bank. But that was enough to make her a suspect in the case. "Cops were actually at my house looking for me. Somebody on Facebook contacted me. My name was on their checks, and they thought I was the person that did it."
Police believe the suspect has left the state, but Alicia is still on edge. Janesville PD believe men were breaking into the Wisconsin cars and then recruiting women that match descriptions of the stolen ID's. Those women would then try to cash the forged checks.
It's possible this crime ring could circle back through Wisconsin. Some states have reported more than one encounter with the Felony Lane Gang.
The best way to protect yourself is to leave your purse at home. If you have to bring it, hide the purse in the car before you leave home. And if your purse or wallet is stolen, make sure your bank does more than just cancel your debit card. They should also put an alert on your checking account or freeze it.