FBI and local police have collaborated to combat a highly lucrative crime: robberies by gangs that target traveling jewelry and precious gem salespeople, USA Today reports. There were 117 reported robberies in the first nine months of this year, putting the industry on track for its lowest number of annual attacks since about 1990, says the Jewelers’ Security Alliance (JSA). Ripping off sales reps, who typically travel by car and carry hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of goods in small pieces of rolling luggage, remains a lucrative crime. The average theft this year has netted about $224,000. The average bank robbery netted about $4,220 in 2004.
Interrogations of captured robbers have shown that most are illegal immigrants, usually Colombian or Ecuadorean, who have worked their way up in ethnic gangs by performing less serious robberies, says FBI agent Daniel McCaffrey. After 1999, when sales reps endured a record 323 robberies and more than $76 million in losses, the FBI partnered with police task forces in New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, and other jewel theft hot spots. Using stakeouts, stings and other methods, they’ve helped boost arrests and lower dollar losses each year since 2000.