Gangs of foreign nationals are suspected in a string of burglaries around Salt Lake City. Law enforcement has warned of “burglary tourism” in areas like suburban Detroit, Scottsdale, and Los Angeles. These gangs often target homes when owners are away or distract victims to steal wallets, using the cards for quick purchases before detection.

Thieves typically work in pairs or groups of three. One distracts the victim while another steals the wallet. Victims usually realize the theft only at the point of sale or when they return home. “The victim believes the wallet is in the purse until they get to a point of sale or return home,” said Lt. Brian Cooper of the Farmington Police Department in Utah.

These suspects, often labeled “crime tourists,” travel the country in rental vehicles with fake IDs, exploiting a loophole in the federal visa waiver program. While some gangs come from China, most originate from Chile or other South American countries. “The common links are they’re organized crime groups, they’re here temporarily, and in our recent experience, they have been foreign nationals, but most closely associated with South American theft groups,” Cooper explained.

Fortunately, these gangs rarely use violence. “We haven’t seen many violent encounters or that they’re armed,” Cooper noted. He cited an instance where a suspect dropped the wallet and fled when confronted.

Farmington PD suspects “South American theft groups” in at least four recent robberies. Police have arrested several suspects, including America Daniela Gonzalez Tobar, a 42-year-old Chilean national on an FBI watch list due to her “ties to transnational criminal organizations, specifically the Chilean Theft Group.”

Cooper advises Americans to be cautious with strangers and secure their belongings. “Keep your property secure, don’t be cavalier when shopping. Don’t be paranoid or afraid, but just be smart, keep items of value close,” he said.

To protect homes, Chris Bavender, an FBI public affairs specialist, recommends varying routines, photographing valuables, using safes, and avoiding large cash stashes at home.