Sun, Oct 23, 2011 - Page 7 News List

US gangs grow, turn to financial crimes: FBI

Reuters, Washington

The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Friday estimated there are about 1.4 million gang members in the US and they are turning to white collar crimes as more lucrative enterprises.

Gangs like the Bloods and the Crips are engaging in crimes such as identity theft, counterfeiting, selling stolen goods and even bank, credit card and mortgage fraud, a new FBI gangs threat assessment said.

LESS PAIN, MORE GAIN

“We’ve seen it, but we’ve seen them doing it even more now and we attribute that to the fact that the likelihood of being caught is less, the sentences once you are caught are less and the actual monetary gain is much higher,” said Diedre Butler, a unit chief at the National Gang Intelligence Center.

In 2009, the FBI estimated there were 1 million gang members. It attributes some of the 40 percent increase since then to more comprehensive reporting by law enforcement agencies.

Agency officials said they were unable to determine exactly how many new gang members there were now since the last estimate, but that such membership was indeed on the rise.

Gangs are using social media such as Facebook and YouTube to recruit members and communicate, as well as posting photos of their lifestyle to present a tough image, the assessment said.

“It may stoke the curiosity of someone in the community and so that is kind of a recruitment tool because now people may see this video and think that’s kind of sort of cool,” said Calvin Shivers, a section chief in the FBI’s gang unit.

HELPING HAND

While being a member of a gang is not illegal, social network Web sites help law enforcement identify members and potentially pursue them if authorities believe crimes have been committed, he said.

Another concern is gang members joining the US military and teaching skills they learn to fellow gang members, though the FBI said some members may join the military to escape gangs.

“The military is aware of the situation and they’re monitoring it closely,” Butler said.

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