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Lebanon victim of 'lane gang' ready to fight back
Sep 01, 2012 12:00 am
Stephanie Bost, of Lebanon, had her car burglarized in a place she didn't expect - the parking lot near the pool at the Jimmy Floyd Center.
She was the victim of a "smash and grab" when the thieves broke her car window and stole her purse, which was hidden under the backseat of her SUV. But this crime was more than an isolated incident.
"There were two car break-ins at the Floyd Center and two at the country club. My identity has now been stolen," Bost said of the incident a few weeks ago.
She was surprised to learn she had been targeted by organized crime.
"I'm a victim of the 'felony lane gang,'" she said. "It's a nationwide crime organization that goes around to different states. They stalk women, watch where we put our purses in our cars and, when we leave, they break into our cars and steal our purses."
Bost said Lebanon officers told her she is one of many people targeted by the gang.
"The detective told me they travel around from town to town stealing," she said. "They dress the dress, in active gear or whatever, so they fit in. The police knew within a matter of hours that they were a part of the ring."
Bost said the gang gets its name because when they go to a bank to get money from their victim's accounts they go through the most distant lane at the drive-through window in an effort to hide their identities.
"It's not just a grab cash and go; they get into checks and bank accounts — everything," she said.
Bost immedieatly closed her accounts and cancelled her credit cards and checks, but a forgotten debt card for a First Tennessee account opened jointly with her son was overlooked. That is the account the gang targeted. She said the gang went quickly to Knoxville, where there are more than 20 First Tennessee branches. She explained how the gang operates.
"The gang hires prostituties and homeless people who look like the people on the driver's license, clean them up and send these people into the bank where they say 'I don't know my account number,' or 'I need to know what my balance is.'" Bost said. "The bank gave them my balance because they had my driver's license and my Social Security number."
Armed with that knowledge, the gang uses an ellobrate scheme involving using other victims' stolen checks to get money. In Bost's case the gang wrote 15 checks, and they were all cashed on her account. They were able to cash all the checks, at $1,000 each, because they went from bank branch to bank branch very quickly in one day before bank computers registered the fact that the account was nearly empty.
"All the banks do is make sure I have enough to cover it," she said.
LPD Chief Scott Bowen said at least one of the checks used to rob Bost's account came from another victim in a nearby town.
"In this case we believe they stalked people and looked into cars for pocketbooks at recreational clubs," he said. "They were looking for credit cards and checks. It's not about the burglary to get stuff to sell, it's about getting the paper and about identity theft."
Bowen said people have to be aware of the risk they run when they leave their purse or wallet in a vehicle.
"Don't leave wallets and purses in plain view. Lock it in the trunk. If you can't do that take it in with you," he said. "It only takes five to 10 seconds to pop that window, and then they're gone."
He also urged bank personnel to look closely at checks before they cash them.
"The sad part is in one case they wrote a check from one victim to another, but they signed with one victim's first name and another victim's last name," he said. "It didn't even match, and they cashed it anyway."
Bost said the theft has made her life difficult, and she is waiting for the other shoe to fall.
"I work at a middle school, and I told the principal if Knoxville cops show up at the school, they're there for me," she said. "I was told if I try to write a check in Knoxville I would probably be taken into custody."
Bost said she spent the a few days crying over losing the money and learning that she is responsible for straightening out the mess the thieves made of her financial life and her identity. Now she wants to fight back.
"I'm finished crying, and I'm mad,"she said. "If I can keep this from happening to one other person, I'm going to."
Staff writer Mary Hinds may be reached at 444-3952, ext. 45 or via email at email@example.com