POWAY, Calif. – The burglary ring known as the South American Theft Group has struck again in North County.
Authorities say two homes in Rancho Santa Fe and another in Rancho Bernardo were burglarized over the weekend. Thieves reportedly made off with as much as $60,000 worth of cash, jewelry and other valuables from each home, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
Sheriff’s Det. Justin Cole said the group is highly organized as they target high-end homes.
The detective said the group typically walks along area hiking trails or golf courses in the first few hours of nightfall, looking into the back of homes to determine if it’s empty.
“They’ll go up, check that home out and if they feel like there’s no one home, they typically will gain entry from a second-floor balcony,” Cole said. “They’ll stack patio furniture, climb walls, form human pyramids — whatever they think it takes to get to the second floor. They know most homeowners don’t have alarm systems on the second floor; just the first.
“They’ll break a glass window. They won’t ever open a door and they target just the master bedroom, the master bedroom closet and the master bath. They don’t venture outside of the home from there.
One victim of the burglars posted a warning online urging neighbors to “set an alarm if you have it.”
“They certainly know exactly where to go and look to find valuables (master bedroom & locked closets for example),” the post reads.
Cole said there also was an attempted burglary in Poway and another Wednesday night in La Jolla.
“Their typical MO is they check the house first and make sure no one’s home ’cause they don’t want any contact with the homeowner so in those two cases the homeowners came home and saw them and then they ran away,” he said.
The crimes in San Diego County date back to May 2021 with more than 70 reported burglaries so far. Authorities believe nearly all of the thieves are from Chile, using a visa waiver to get into the U.S.
“Chile is the only South American country that’s involved in a program that allows people for $18 to go online, click a few boxes, say they’re not criminal and they get a 90-day visa waiver to come to the United States,” Cole said.
He said hundreds of groups of three or four burglars are operating and traveling across the U.S. and they’re constantly on the move.
“There was an arrest made on one of the getaway drivers and that we were able to we’re still working that investigation now and we’re hoping that that’s going to further future arrests shortly,” Cole said.
Investigators urge residents to be vigilant by updating alarm systems and to consider installing glass-break and motion sensors.