An elaborate fraud scheme likely orchestrated by a network of thieves up and down the East Coast has touched Howard County, according to police.
Police say the thieves use personal information stolen from purses left inside cars near day care centers, schools, gyms and parks to commit fraud and drain bank accounts.
Although police say the scheme has been operated in various communities up and down the east coast for the past few years, it started hitting portions of Columbia, Ellicott City and Elkridge in December of 2012.
Over the next two months, police reported eight incidents at the following locations:
- Hillsborough Road dog park, Ellicott City
- Elkridge Elementary School, Elkridge
- Columbia Athletic Club, Columbia
- Columbia Academy, Columbia (2 cases)
- Top Shape Fitness, Columbia
- Columbia Gymnastics, Columbia
- Columbia Swim Center, Columbia
In the eight county incidents, victims have reported leaving their purses in locked cars as they "run in" to pick up children from the various parks, schools, gyms, etc.
The victims return to find their windows smashed and their purses gone.
After stealing the purses, the thieves are using an elaborate check writing scheme to steal money from accounts.
Police are asking women to take the following precautions:
Take your purse with you everywhere, even if it’s only for a minute. If you absolutely can’t carry it with you, lock it in the trunk. It won’t be as obvious to a thief looking through cars.
If you are a victim, report it to the bank immediately. The thieves are not using credit cards, which can be detected by the bank quickly. They are using checks, which take time to move through the bank system. Tell your bank right away if your checkbook was stolen, so they can refuse to cash any checks posted against your account.