Four men have been arrested on suspicion of burglarizing the homes of Los Angeles Times subscribers who put a vacation stop on their newspaper delivery, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Police say Duane Van Tuinen, an office repairman contracted by the newspaper, repeatedly stole lists of the newspaper's subscribers and passed them on to three other men, who burglarized more than 25 homes in Southern California while residents were away.
Van Tuinen, 51, arrested Wednesday, would share in the property and ultimately sell it for profit, police said.
Randall Whitmore, 43, Joshua Box, 43, and Edwin Valentine, 52, were also arrested in connection with the alleged burglary ring.
Below, a former burglar and jewel thief shares tips that may prevent you from becoming a victim.
The eight-month long investigation led Metro Detectives to a West Covina, Calif., storage locker where detectives last Thursday located and recovered hundreds of pieces of stolen property worth more than $100,000, according to police.
Police said they recovered collectible coins, musical instruments, collectible swords, computers, jewelry and even someone's coffee pot.
"It was a complete ransacking of the residence," Sgt. Michael Maher of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said Wednesday.
"One of the suspects found the keys to the car inside the home and loaded the car full of their property and drove away in that stolen vehicle."
Since the discovery of the storage locker, investigators have identified several victims.
"Although much of the stolen property has been returned to the rightful owners, we are still trying to locate additional victims," Det. Jack Jordan of the Major Crimes Bureau said in a news release.
Charges are pending against the four men who remain in police custody.
"The Los Angeles Times was contacted several months ago about criminal activity which may have been linked to subscriber delivery information," company spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan said in a statement. "We continuously review and upgrade our policies and systems to protect and best serve our customers."
The paper will no longer share vacation information with distributors, Sullivan said.
Walter Shaw , a former burglar and jewel thief for more than 30 years, pulled off more than 3,000 break-ins.
He shared the following secrets:
1. Set up timers on lights and televisions to go off at random times during the day. Surveillance cameras also help.
2. Don't leave expensive flower pots, decorations and kids toys outside. They suggest nice things are inside your home.
3. If it snows while you're away, ask a neighbor to create car and foot tracks. Also, avoid the vacation hold and ask a neighbor to pick up your mail as well as newspapers.
4. When you go on vacation, just go. Don't tell people the details of your trip and don't share information over email. "If they can hack into the CIA's computer, they can do it to ours," Shaw said.
5. Be wary of travel websites. Shaw said they lay out entire itineraries for anyone to view and grab.
Anyone who had placed themselves on the Times vacation list and were subsequently burglarized is encouraged to contact Det. Jordan at (562) 946-7893.
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