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Federal authorities warn about "Felony Lane Gang" thefts in East Tennessee

The thefts usually involve thieves using information from driver's licenses and other identification cards to impersonate people and cash fraudulent checks.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Federal authorities are warning people about a specific kind of crime scheme that has been seen in East Tennessee. The thieves associated with it are called the "Felony Lane Gang," according to officials.

"Think of it as a series of franchises, as opposed to one cohesive group like the mafia," said Steve Fogarty, a special agent with FBI Nashville. "It started just in the early 2000s in South Florida. It is a crime scheme very much centric to the Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area."

It starts with gang members conducting surveillance at places where people usually leave items in cars, such as in fitness centers or daycares. They usually use rental cars and may even cover the car's license plate with another plate to prevent being tracked.

After finding a car with valuables in it, they may use a window punch to steal them. Usually, they steal purses, wallets and pocketbooks, according to authorities.

Then, they use the credit cards found in the car to buy gift cards to be used later.

They also steal driver's licenses and other identifying information, including cards that reveal personal information like a victim's address or what they look like.

Thieves can then use that information to cash fraudulent checks in the person's name. They can even recruit people to dress up as victims and make banking transactions, repeatedly cashing checks until the account owner stops it.

"We interviewed a guy in prison down in Florida several years ago who was involved in this scheme," said Fogarty. "He said in a good week, they could make $40,000 to $60,000 in a week as a crew."

The crime scheme started in Florida by people who grew up together, according to authorities. They said the gang started breaking into cars where people left purses, wallets and other valuables and used that information to steal thousands of dollars.

Fogarty said the best way to prevent this kind of crime is to simply not give thieves the opportunity and take valuables out of the car. 

"This is a crime of opportunity, let's take away the opportunity," he said. "Do not leave purses or pocketbooks in the car. They know you're going to put your coat over them in the backseat."

He said the thieves have reportedly broken into cars in Farragut and Loudon.