US gangs growing, turning to financial crimes – FBI

WASHINGTON,  (Reuters) – The Federal Bureau of  Investigation on Friday estimated there are some 1.4 million  gang members in the United States 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, said a new FBI  gangs threat assessment.

“We’ve seen it, but we’ve seen them doing it even more now  and we attribute 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.

While being a member of a gang is not illegal, social  network websites 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 U.S. military  and teaching skills they learn to fellow gang members, though  the FBI said some members may join the military to escape  gangs.

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