Washington, D.C., police are conducting intensive undercover investigations in a rare crackdown on fences who traffic in stolen goods, the Washington Post reports. Fencing operations have grown more sophisticated and no longer rely on the walk-in traffic of burglars. Fences hand out “shopping lists” to thieves, give tours of target neighborhoods, and pull loot from across the Washington area into their operations. Some groups also have begun to dabble in identity theft, asking bandits to target credit cards and checkbooks. The stolen items are not just being peddled out the back door or on sidewalk stands. With the help of the Internet and overnight shipping, the fencing operators are sending stolen goods worldwide.
Across the Washington area, police reported more than 25,000 burglaries and 118,380 thefts in 2002, the last year regionwide statistics were available. Police said a sizable chunk of stolen items is being funneled through fencing operations. Career burglars often strike house after house, or store after store, to get enough cash to satisfy their drug addictions. Often, those burglars get away with 30 or 40 thefts before being caught. Fencing stolen items is an age-old practice, but a few decades ago, fencing operations generally fell into three categories: pawn dealers, mom-and-pop businesses, and organized criminal groups, such as La Cosa Nostra and the Russian mafia. Authorities said newer fencing operations hide from sight in legitimate businesses and show discipline and precision in their dealings. To break up the gangs, D.C. police have been forced to undertake months-long undercover operations, complete with confidential informants.