Law enforcement agencies are sounding the alarm over a growing trend: Chilean crime syndicates taking advantage of visa waivers for "burglary tourism." Authorities believe the sophisticated operations are responsible for "hundreds and hundreds" of heists across the U.S., resulting in losses totaling millions of dollars.
What are the details?
Officials are working to determine how many people are involved in the rings, but methodical patterns have emerged linking Chilean nationals to a crime circuit with international scope. According to the Daily Mail, the root of the operations have "been linked to a corruption scandal in the Chilean capital Santiago, involving bribes to police."
"There are many Chileans who, being criminals here, travel abroad because they can obtain better treasures," Chilean journalist Javiera Rodriguez told the Los Angeles Times. "In addition, they are very ingenious and create new forms of theft."
The perpetrators use innovative, signature tactics for jamming car key fobs so they won't lock, disabling or circumventing security systems, and disguising their identities with fake documentation even when they are caught. Their efforts appear to be worth it, too; more than $1 million in jewelry was lifted during a single Chilean-linked raid in California last month. An LAPD captain said it's not uncommon for homeowners to lose $30,000 or $40,000 worth of property if they become victims of the gangs.
In Ventura County, California, such thefts by tourist burglars are "in the hundreds and hundreds," Sheriff's Detective Theodore Stern told the Times. "It's a huge issue. They're taking advantage of our immigration laws. Officers are working hard to catch these guys."
While Southern California has become a popular target for the malicious visitors seeking easy-pickings of luxury goods, dozens of Chilean "tourists" are believed to be responsible for home, vehicle, and business invasions across the U.S. The problem has been flagged by law enforcement in several other states, including Texas, Arizona, Colorado, and New York.
Chilean "tourist" gangs have also been blamed for recent waves of burglaries across England, Canada, and Australia. Not only have the operatives earned a reputation for their savvy stealing, they are adept at using visas to legally enter wealthy nations and freely pillage for months.
In spite of their elusive ways, dozens of Chilean suspects have been apprehended in what officials say are widespread, well-coordinated gangs of professionals. Law enforcement agencies across the globe are taking notice, while calling for more stringent background checks on tourists entering their countries.