ARC Combats Midwest Burglary Epidemic

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WASHINGTON -- Alarmed by a rash of travel agency burglaries in the Midwest, the Airlines Reporting Corp. took the unprecedented step of posting a suspect's mug shots on its Web site to alert agents.

In another unprecedented move, ARC hired former detective Gary Yallelus, one of the few detectives in the country who specialized in agency ticket theft, to make random calls on two or three agencies in the area each day and advise them on their security precautions.

Burglaries or attempted burglaries took place at 11 agencies in the Midwest during July, up from two in June and five in May, according to ARC incident reports.

"We're not happy with the situation," said ARC president David Collins. "We don't like to see crimes against agents ... and we keep trying new things."

Agents in the area viewed police mug shots and identified the suspect pictured on ARC's Web site as someone who had been in their offices on the day before or day of a theft. Describing him as "a man of many names," ARC said the suspect's real name is irrelevant because police can identify him by the alias of Juan Doe.

He has not been directly linked to a travel agency burglary, but he has an arrest record for jewel theft and "we have an emerging pattern of association" with agency theft, said Allan Muten, ARC corporate communications director. ARC stressed that agents should take no action on their own if they see Juan Doe but should immediately call the burglary detail at the local police after he leaves. "He is not believed to be dangerous, but that's something we don't want to test," Muten said.

The mug shots can be viewed by clicking "photo alert" on ARC's Web site at www.arccorp.com (or click here). Agents who think they've seen Juan Doe are asked to refer local police to the site.

Although this is the first time that ARC has used its Web site to publicize a suspect's photo, Collins said mug shots previously were circulated among agents and in one case may have aborted a daytime distraction theft. He recalled that an agency posted the mug shots on the bulletin board located on the way to the rest room. A man and woman later visited the agency, and the woman asked to use the rest room -- a common ploy used by shoplifters. The woman noticed the mug shots, hurried back, tapped her accomplice on the shoulder, and they left abruptly.

ARC said Yallelus, recently retired after 25 years with the Miami Metro-Dade Police Department, will call on agencies, with or without notice, in Illinois and surrounding states to provide security advice for a 90-day pilot project. Yallelus' photo was posted on ARC's Web site under the heading, Crime Resistance/Security Consultant, so that agents will recognize him. (Click here to view the photo.)

If Yallelus spots any security violations during his visits, the agency will not be penalized for breach of contract. However, ARC will make a record of the violation, which subsequently would be used against the agency if it failed to correct the problem and had a ticket theft.

"We're not [sending Yallelus] into agencies to find violations," Collins said, "but rather to educate, to sensitize them to the risks and the security requirements. I hope agents will see this as positive consultancy." Yallelus also will visit local police to discuss the national problem of agency theft, ARC said.

Muten said some of the recent incidents in the Midwest were attempted burglaries, such as a case when thieves broke into an adjacent real estate office and inexplicably abandoned an attempt to cut a hole in the wall adjoining the agency. In some other cases, the victimized agencies lost up to 4,000 coupons, he said. Some firms lost ticket stock when their safes were forced open or ripped out and taken off the premises, but they will not be held liable to pay for ticket usage because they complied with ARC security rules, Muten said.

On the other hand, a couple of agencies had watched local television news reports warning of an increase in commercial burglaries and took no steps at all to comply with the rules, he said. One agency owner, who admitted seeing the news reports, actually brought in more blank stock because she was going on vacation and wanted the staff to have easy access to tickets while she was gone, Muten said.

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