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HomeUSA'Burglary tourism' plagues Southern California as unvetted foreigners raid luxe houses

‘Burglary tourism’ plagues Southern California as unvetted foreigners raid luxe houses

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Authorities are warning of a new burglary trend involving foreign crooks who take advantage of a State Department travel program to case out affluent U.S. neighborhoods and ransack homes for profit.

They use cellphone-jamming equipment to disrupt Wi-Fi networks and expensive security systems. In some cases, investigators caught them hiding in brush wearing ghillie suits, waiting for homeowners to go out, so they could sneak inside. 

The crime is made possible because Chile is a part of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows tourists and business travelers to enter America for 90 days or less without having to obtain a visa or go through a thorough vetting process.

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Surveillance video shows thieves climbing an upstairs balcony and breaking into a California home through a sliding door. (Orange County District Attorney’s Office)

There are just 41 countries around the world approved for the Visa Waiver Program, including key U.S. allies like the United Kingdom, France and South Korea. 

Chile, which the State Department describes as a regional leader for the rule of law and economic stability, is the only Latin American country on the list.

Thieves are now taking advantage of that to fly to wealthy U.S. neighborhoods and pillage private homes, according to authorities.

Ring video shows thieves in backyard

Ring video shows burglars prowling in a victim’s backyard at night with flashlights. (Orange County District Attorney’s Office)

They often break in through the second floor, where homeowners are less likely to have alarms on their doors and windows. Then they sell off the stolen property in the U.S. or overseas.

Orange County, California, District Attorney Todd Spitzer has been warning about the issue since last year.

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“These are not crimes of opportunity,” he warned in July. “These are carefully calculated and planned attacks on what should be our safe place – our homes.”

In one case, the burglars entered an elderly woman’s home while she was still inside, and she panicked and hid in a closet, a spokeswoman for Spitzer’s office told Fox News Digital. Waterfront homes with private docks have been raided by burglars arriving by boat while the residents are taking their kids to soccer practice.

Gillie suit in trunk next to coach bag

Police recovered a ghillie suit that prosecutors allege a thief hid in for hours while casing out a California home before breaking in. (Orange County District Attorney’s Office)

In another, thieves made off with a piggy bank full of a 6-year-old girl’s Christmas and birthday money, the Orange County DA’s public information officer Kimberly Edds said Tuesday. 

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Chile is supposed to conduct criminal background checks on its end for the waiver program and share information with the U.S. However, it is failing to do so, according to Spitzer’s office. That can result in career criminals being treated as first-time offenders if they are caught in the act on U.S. soil.

Thief climbing over balcony railing

Prosecutors say the thieves climb up to second-story windows, where homeowners are less likely to have alarms on their doors. (Orange County District Attorney’s Office)

Police departments in Southern California are reporting upticks in such burglaries – including in Orange County, where Spitzer filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration for failing to respond to public records requests involving documentation on the issue.

In Los Angeles, the LAPD recently established a task force to combat the international crime spree, after repeatedly arresting a 17-year-old Chilean and two adult accomplices in a string of Pacific Palisades burglaries, the LA Times reported over the weekend.

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However, the Golden State is not the only target. Similar crimes have been reported in Michigan, New Jersey and New York. Edds said that prosecutors discovered one group made a cross-country drive from Florida to Alaska, burglarizing homes along the way.

Top law enforcement sources tell Fox News they could shut down the crime wave rapidly if the State Department would revoke Chile’s status under the Visa Waiver Program, which allows Chilean citizens to travel to the United States without any vetting.

Spitzer’s office is also calling on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to use his powers to strike Chile from the program.

Fox News’ William La Jeunesse and Bonny Chu contributed to this report.

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