Locker-popping gym rats are targeting gymgoers across the tri-state area, and police are blaming social media for fueling the crime wave.
Police say dozens of tutorials are popping up online, demonstrating how to manipulate a soda can or piece of metal into a lock-popping "shim." The popular technique has been watched hundreds of thousands of times online, and crooks have become well aware of how to steal from their victims.
In Harlem, a wanted poster of an alleged locker room thief hangs at various gym clubs as a reminder for customers to be on the lookout.
Mark Piazza found himself a victim when he went to his local gym for a quick workout. He returned to his gym locker to find his money clip had been stolen, and his credit cards, driver's license and $80 in cash were gone.
Nick Pasquarello, a retired law enforcement veteran, spent years helping victims but never imagined he'd become a victim at his local gym. Within minutes after the theft, the gym locker crooks started ringing up gifts to groceries, courtesy of Pasquarello's credit cards.
But Pasquarello most misses the priceless memories the thieves stole, including a treasured photo of his father.
"That picture meant so much to me," he said. "I didn't have a copy of that picture anywhere."
"I work for everything I have, and I work very hard," said Pasquarello. "I felt violated."
A lock expert at Greenwich Locksmiths downtown says thieves are no longer cutting off locks to gain access to lockers.
"Everybodying thinks they're cutting them off. They're not cutting them off," said Phillip Mortillaro, who's clocked nearly 50 years with locks. "They're shimming them open."
Mortillaro says the quality of the locks matter when it comes to deterring thieves. He doesn't have much sympathy for victims who buy cheap locks.
"They leave here and go down to the deli over there, they get a $2 lock. They get robbed, and come over here, "boo hoo" and crying," said Mortillaro. "It's like, give me a break, man."
It all comes down to notches, Mortillaro said. A cheap lock typically has a single notch. The more secure, double-locking locks contain two notches.
Experts say a decent lock starts around $10 and can run up around $25. But Mortillaro recommends customers focus on the notches for better security.
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