Athens police searching for suspect in theft of credit cards from vehicle and used in spending spree


By Joe Johnson

Athens-Clarke County police are looking for a thief who made about $900 in purchases within a few hours of stealing credit cards from a car parked at a local gym earlier this month.

According to Athens-Clarke County police Property Crimes Unit Detective Nathaniel Franco, a woman reported that on Dec. 7 her car was entered and her purse stolen while she was at Planet Fitness on Atlanta Highway.

The woman told police she had locked the vehicle while working out at the gym, but Franco said so signs of forced entry to the vehicle were found.

Over a period of a few hours after the vehicle was entered, multiple credit cards that were in the purse were fraudulently used to purchase about $900 in pre-paid gift cards at a Walgreens, Kroger and CVS in Athens, as well as a Walmart in Oconee County, Franco said.

The detective was able to obtain a surveillance video image of the suspect from one of the stores.

“Although only a small portion of this suspect's face is visible in the image, I have been able to identify subjects in other cases with a limited amount of their faces showing, which is the new normal with COVID-19, simply from recognizing them from prior investigations,” Franco said.

The detective did not recognize the suspect in this particular case, which is why the surveillance photo was publicly released.

Even though the suspect’s face is obscured by a mask, he wore a unique jacket with what appeared to have cartoon characters on the areas on the shoulders and hood.

“I do believe that this subject is local to Athens, but there is a possibility he is not,” Franco said.

The detective noted that police have seen “a recent uptick in entering autos, with broken windows at shopping centers and other public parking areas and I have identified several of these suspects, but not all of them, including this suspect.

“Women's purses are frequently being targeted in these crimes,” Franco said. “We know that groups travel from state to state committing these types of entering autos, so-called ‘felony lane gangs,’ but we also know that local groups commit entering autos in this same manner, similarly targeting vehicles at these same locations. We strongly encourage that purses never be left in vehicles and that if purses must be left inside a vehicle that they be hidden from view.”

Police asked for anyone with information about the Planet Fitness case or any other thefts from vehicles to contact Franso at (762) 400-7100 or nathaniel.franco@accgov.com.

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