Pillowcase burglars now targeting vehicles, stealing identities in Martin County

Sheriff Snyder says car break-ins are up to 114

STUART, Fla. - The Martin County Sheriff's Office is warning residents who live along the Treasure Coast to be watchful of their cars as pillowcase burglars are moving on to a new target.

The sheriff's office arrested Justin Garner and Christopher Nelson of Ft. Lauderdale after Snyder says they broke into a car at Shepard Park in Stuart.

Authorities say the men admitted they were tied to the same group out of Broward County responsible for a number of home burglaries along the Treasure Coast.

The thieves use a window punch to get to valuables inside a car, and their identity.

"We knew this had to be a spin off," said Snyder. The thieves use cars with tinted windows, and travel from Broward County just as the pillowcase burglars do.

The thieves are part of what they call the " Felony Lane Gang." They steal one person's ID, and another person's debit card or check book. When they go to the bank, they pull into the lane farthest from the bank teller, or what they call the felony lane. It's harder for the teller to see them, and easier for them to get their payout.

Martin County Sheriff William Snyder says this is most common at parks and beaches where someone will be away from their car for longer periods of time.

Scott Steger plays basketball frequently at the Stuart Beach. He admits he usually leaves his wallet hidden in the car. "I have to keep an eye on it," Steger said.

He says he doesn't usually worry about someone breaking into his car, but now, feels a little more worried. "it's just these strategies. It is crazy that people would think of that," said Steger.

Sheriff Snyder says car break-ins are up so far this year to 114. Authorities are working to determine if a number of them are related to the Felony Lane Gang.

Sheriff Snyder says the car break-ins carry a lesser punishment than the home break-ins, but are harder to catch. "There is less physical evidence and it is less likely that we will have a witness," Snyder explained.

He also stresses that this does not mean homes are in the clear. "There are probably several hundred of them in the Broward County area that are more than capable and willing to do these kind of crimes."

Snyder says there are ways to protect your valuables. He recommends bringing credit cards instead of debit cards, as well as leaving your checkbook at home. He says your trunk is not the safest place for valuables as a thief can pop it open once inside your car.  Mechanics can disable that, to where you can only access the trunk with a key.

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