Mark Puente, Los Angeles Times, April 24, 2019
International thieves from Chile are suspected of committing hundreds of burglaries across Southern California after obtaining visa waivers to enter the United States, authorities said.
For months, a sophisticated ring of burglars has targeted affluent homes, businesses and cars in Los Angeles and the counties of Alameda, Orange, San Bernardino, Santa Clara and Ventura, lifting jewelry, guns and other valuables, police said.
A similar spate of “burglary tourism” is occurring in Texas, Arizona, Colorado, New York and other states, as well as several European countries, the FBI said.
Last week, Simi Valley police, working with the California Highway Patrol and Ventura County deputies, arrested three Chilean men for multiple vehicle burglaries. Each was in the country on temporary visas, police said.
The visa waiver makes it hard for police to learn the real identities of the crooks, investigators said.
The ESTA — Electronic System for Travel Authorization — visa waiver allows citizens from 38 countries to visit the United States for tourism, business, study or medical purposes for 90 days.
So far, police have been unable to determine the number of heists, the value of items stolen across the region or how many people work in the ring.
The crews’ signature identifiers include fake passports and phony identification cards. They use rental cars, sometimes masked with paper license plates. After entering the rear of homes, the burglars typically barricade front doors, including those in gated communities with private security patrols.