CRIME

I-95 Bandits strike Columbia

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A warning is going out about some organized thieves targeting one thing: your wallet.

Florida, Virginia and New Jersey are a few states that have experienced the roving band of thieves who smash and grab thousands of dollars. They just hit Columbia, Md., robbing women where they feel the most secure.

Inside, a fitness instructor watches each sweat-drenched body with drill sergeant precision, but outside Columbia’s Top Shape Fitness, someone else was waiting and watching.

“I couldn’t believe it,” says Debbie, the victim of a theft ring. She says she was stalked.

“Every single time I would come to the gym I would put my purse behind the last row of seats, every time. I thought it was safe,” she says.

Debbie joins the list of women ripped off by the so-called I-95 Corridor Bandits.

“We think they’re watching women in places they’re expected to run in…leave their purse,” says Sherry Llewellyn of the Howard County Police Department.

The gym, pre-school and running trails are hot areas. There have been eight cases in Howard County in just as many weeks.

“What they’re doing is stealing the checkbook from one purse and then the ID from another,” says Llewellyn.

Police in Howard County say accounts are fleeced in hours because banks can immediately cancel a credit card. Fraud on a checking account is not so easy to stop.

“I’m financially crippled. I don’t have an ATM, I have no cash on me, I can’t write a check to myself,” says Debbie. “Meanwhile, I can’t access any of the stolen money so I can’t pay my bills. You can’t do anything. You’re stuck for a while.”

And despite cameras everywhere, the police have no surveillance to release. Police say the thieves avoid cameras by using the outside lane of the drive-up teller because it’s harder to see.

The bandits have perfected their take down, breaking windows with people around.

“It’s like nobody hears or sees anything. That’s the thing that surprises me the most,” says Maurice Salvant, who owns Top Shape Fitness.

The bandits have gotten away with the crimes from Florida to Pennsylvania. Police are surprised they aren't afraid to return to Howard County.

“Our concern right now is that they may come back to Howard County and that’s why we’re warning women to not be victims,” says Llewellyn.

Police have a few leads, but are warning women to lock their purses in the trunk and to lock your latch inside the car.

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