Local man victim of 'follow-away' auto burglary
by Brande Poulnot
Aug 26, 2010 | 3307 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bartow County Sheriff’s Office investigators say shoppers should park close to the store front, lock vehicles and remove valuables from parked cars to prevent auto burglaries. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Bartow County Sheriff’s Office investigators say shoppers should park close to the store front, lock vehicles and remove valuables from parked cars to prevent auto burglaries. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Thieves recently took a big bite out of a local Apple Store customer who had just purchased more than $2,600 in electronics and software in Atlanta. Local investigators believe the Cartersville man was the victim of a "follow-away" auto burglary, a common vehicle break-in technique in California.

In January, L.A. Times reported more than 100 Apple Store customers had been targeted by what California investigators believe is a theft ring. The perpetrators stake out Apple Stores, follow prospective victims to their next stop and if computers are left unattended inside vehicles, break into the cars and steal the merchandise.

It was the same scenario for the local 46-year-old man who had been back-to-school shopping Saturday, Aug. 7, with his daughter. He reported to Bartow County Sheriff's Office deputies shortly after 11 p.m. that he noticed two MacBooks, an iPod Touch, a Canon all-in-one printer and two software packages missing from his trunk when he returned home after a second stop for shopping at Walmart on Market Place Boulevard in Cartersville.

"He had bought these items at Lenox [Square] Mall and evidently someone had targeted him down there when he loaded his vehicle up and when he made it back to Cartersville and was in Walmart, his car was broken into. The computers were stolen," Investigator Lamar Deems said. "I went on the Internet and researched this and come to find out, it's kind of a nationwide theft ring, especially out on the west coast."

The victim told deputies he had seen news reports of similar thefts, and believed he had been followed from Lenox Square Mall by a silver Nissan passenger car.

"I was able to recover video from Walmart's surveillance system and was able to identify the car by color and make -- no license plate was available. [The victim] said he observed that same car occupied by two [Caucasian] males at Lenox Mall watching him load his vehicle up," Deems said. "The case is still open and active ... but the suspects never went into the store. I never really got a good view of them."

Authorities issued a lookout for the stolen items, entering the serial numbers on a nationwide database, but Deems said he has little to go on without the identities or good descriptions of the suspects or their vehicle. "If the items are being pawned or sold, maybe something will be flagged at that point," he said.

But that may be a long shot, as California investigators who arrested three men in connection with a similar crime reported that none of the Apple products taken in the cases reported to several law enforcement agencies have been recovered, indicating they were immediately fenced or shipped out of the country.

In the local case, surveillance footage showed the thieves using a device, possibly a screwdriver, to break the lock on the victim's trunk in the Walmart parking lot, but no one reported the incident. Deems said the device was used as a punch, and the thieves hit it with a hammer, knocking the locking mechanism out of the trunk.

"The video, you can watch it and there are people going and coming all around during this time frame and no one came forth as a witness," he said.

Auto burglaries of all types are a common occurrence in and around Cartersville and Bartow County, with BCSO receiving "numerous" such reports. Deems said to prevent this type of theft, motorists should never leave valuables inside parked vehicles.

"The closer you can park to the storefront, the safer you are. If it's night, make sure it's well lit. Don't leave items in your cars, such as cell phones, wallets, GPS units out in plain view," Deems said. "Make sure your car is locked and even then, if you leave items in plain view, a lot of these people are just going to knock the windows out and grab it and go."