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Criminals taking advantage of your gym time

Published July 1, 2007


The St. Petersburg Police Department has investigated 24 vehicle burglaries at various gyms and fitness centers.

It appears the suspects actively watched these locations, paying attention to women who left purses inside their car.

Investigators say the pattern is emerging throughout Pinellas and Hillsborough. The thefts may involve more than one group of suspects.

After picking a victim, the thieves wait until he or she enters the building before approaching the car. They smash out a side window, and remove items such as cell phones, GPS units and wallets. The prize, however, is a purse.

The entire crime lasts less than a minute, but the victims' problems might just be beginning. In several cases, thieves used a victim's identity to open accounts or used their credit cards to make purchases.

In one case, they opened a checking account in a victim's name and forged checks taken from another victim's purse to "deposit" funds into the bogus account. Then they returned later to withdraw cash.

Avoid the temptation to leave purses, wallets or other valuables in your car, and remember to check the parking lot for suspicious persons before and after exiting your vehicle.

And if your purse or wallet is stolen, report it to the police and call your bank and credit card companies. You might also consider talking to your bank representative about enrolling in a fraud alert protection program.

None of us can alter a criminal's intent, but all of us can take simple steps to reduce or eliminate their opportunities to commit a crime.

Bill Proffitt, St. Petersburg police spokesman

[Last modified June 30, 2007, 23:08:08]

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