FARGO — Last year about this time, Fargo police noticed an uptick in purse thefts.
Having heard about similar cases in the Midwest, Fargo authorities believed the area was possibly being targeted by a loose-knit band of thieves known as the "Felony Lane Gang," whose members typically originate out of Florida and crisscross the country in rental cars.
Members primarily target women's purses, which they take from locked and unlocked vehicles, usually in parking lots of day care centers, health clubs and other places women tend to frequent during the day.
Because they were on the lookout, Fargo police ended up nabbing six adults and one juvenile suspected of being connected to the gang in early 2018, according to Detective Brent Malone of the Fargo Police Department, who said at least 12 local cases were believed tied to the gang.
Now, there are indications the Felony Lane Gang — so-called because of their practice of using the farthest drive-through lane from the bank building to make fraudulent transactions— is active again in the North Dakota region, Malone said.
In response, Fargo police are urging people not to leave purses and other valuables in vehicles, as they make prime targets for the gang.
Malone said it is interesting to watch surveillance videos of gang members in action because of how orchestrated their crimes can be.
Typically, he said, a carload of males do the smash-and-grab part of the theft, with the men turning over the purses they steal to a car full of women, who use stolen credit cards, debit cards and checks to obtain cash at banks.
Malone said female suspects have been caught in cars with wigs and colored contact lenses for use in masking their identity when trying to obtain cash.
He said it is important for anyone whose purse has been stolen to immediately cancel credit and debit cards as well as checks.
Because Fargo was successful in disrupting the Felony Lane Gang in the past, Malone said one reason for issuing the general alert was to let would-be thieves know the area is ready for them.
"It's letting them know we know they're here," Malone said. "We know they exist, and we're prepared to deal with it."