Safe Shopping & the Holiday

Written by Josh Brown, VP Director of Security at The Fauquier Bank

In my 23 years as a police officer, and my 12 years at The Fauquier Bank in Security, I have witnessed all of the scenarios I will be discussing here.  Around this time of year there is

Photo of Josh Brown taken at the Seniors Crime Awareness Meeting (S.C.A.M.), courtesy of Dianna Banks of Aging Together. Special thanks to Aging Together and the Warrenton Police for hosting.

extra emphasis on “safe shopping.”  But really, this applies to all times of the year.

One recent trend is particularly disturbing.  We have seen local victims as well as read reports of this crime from around the country.  It is often written about in relation to something called the “Felony Lane” gang.  It starts out with you putting your purse, pocketbook or briefcase on the front seat of your car.  You leave your car parked somewhere, or you are stopped at an intersection.  You then discover or are then surprised by someone breaking out the passenger window of your car, reaching in and taking your belongings.  As I was writing this blog, another alert for this type of criminal gang activity came across my email, this time in Wisconsin.

What the Felony Lane gang does with your stuff is important, because they aren’t really after your money.  At least not the money in your wallet.  They will find out where you bank from your debit card.  They will use your ID at your bank to cash checks they stole from others in the same manner.  They will also use your checks and someone else’s stolen ID at that other person’s bank.  The name, Felony Lane gang, comes from how they cash the checks while pretending to be you.  They go to a branch with a drive up of multiple lanes and use the one the farthest from the building, what we call the felony lane.

Please, don’t put your valuables on the front seat.  When parked, don’t leave them in plain sight.  If you are at the gym, don’t tuck them under your seat.  The criminals know you put them there.

Another issue is what’s called situational awareness.  Know your surroundings.  Be aware.  Take your eyes off your phone while walking (I shouldn’t even have to say anything about while you are driving) and look around.  Take two seconds to look around before leaving the store, halfway to your car, before entering your car, before pulling out of the parking space.  It doesn’t take much to be aware, and it sure doesn’t take much for a criminal to sneak up on you.  We are so distracted these days.

Here is something that is particularly popular this time of year.  Someone was telling me just last week that it recently happened to them.  She was in a store and had a shopping cart.  She was busy and took her eyes off her purse for just a moment.  Okay, so you can likely guess what happened next.  Well, a variation is to have someone distract you while an accomplice steals your purse.  This has been known to happen in a grocery store.  The criminal distracts you by saying that he or she is putting together a holiday meal for the first time.  Maybe they say that they are recently married.  You feel some compassion for them and begin telling them everything they need to look for and look out for in preparing the perfect holiday meal.  The accomplice, meanwhile, steals the contents of your purse.  You won’t know what happened until you go to check out.  They are long gone by then.

It is kind of hard to tell you what to look out for when online holiday shopping.  Even legitimate sites can be hijacked.  But use known websites and reliable companies.  You can usually find reviews online.  As I wrote earlier, this applies to any time of year.  Check your statements.  If you bank online, check your online statements at least once a month.  Report ANY suspicious transactions.  Your bank can often help you recover the funds if you report the fraud less than 60 days after the fraudulent transaction.

What we learned:

  • Always be aware of your surroundings
  • Never leave your valuables on your car’s front seat
  • Never leave your valuables in the shopping cart
  • Take the time to observe the world around you, it can be fun
  • Let your bank know about suspicious transactions


*Josh Brown frequently hosts seminars in our branches regarding banking security. Please go to our website for more details regarding the next Day in the Branch: Learning Banking Security with our Director of Security, Josh Brown. 

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