PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Since 2021, there have been 12 residential burglaries in the Meadowbrook section of Abington Township, according to police.
Investigators had linked these burglaries to similar crimes that were being committed by South American Theft Groups. Suspects were entering the US, mostly from Chile and Colombia, and targeting high-end homes for break-ins.
On Friday night, an Abington officer nabbed four men while conducting surveillance in an area targeted by these groups in the past.
"Thanks to the work of this alert detective; he literally prevented a burglary last night from happening in Abington," said Abington Police Lt. Steve Fink.
Police arrested Alvaro Javier, 36, Jorge Alvarez, 34, Vaster Pedrero, 31, and Nicolas Lucero, 29, all from Chile, on Friday night.
They're charged with attempted burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary, possessing instruments of crime and loitering and prowling at night time.
"It makes me feel safer, and I hope other people feel more safer and comfortable in the neighborhood," said Marlon Boyd who goes to Abington often.
Police said a detective was patrolling a targeted area in Meadowbrook around 6 p.m. when he saw the four men driving around aimlessly.
After police stopped the vehicle, they learned the men had driven from California two days ago and stayed in a Philadelphia motel.
They also discovered the men either had fake IDs or no ID, directions to specific houses and several items inside the car.
"They wear gloves. This is a glass punch tool; a trait that is very specific to this group. They'll go to the back of the property, and they'll use this to shatter the window and make entry," said Fink. "You can see pry bars, hammers, screwdrivers, and a sawzall for getting into safes."
Police said the suspects stole thousands of dollars worth of property in Abington and beyond.
There have been more than 100 similar burglaries in the surrounding counties.
Lower Merion Police are investigating at least 13 since September.
"This is a disturbing trend," said Fink. "We spoke with one of the gentlemen who told us that he flew from Chile to Cancun, then went to Tijuana and crossed over the border. When he crossed over the border, he was given a visa. Once they get here, these guys are able to fraudulent identification."
Police warn homeowners to be prepared.
"Make your house look as lived in as possible," said Fink. "Keep your lights on. Keep cars in the driveway. Get your mail out of the mailbox. If you are away, have your neighbors look after your property. Set your alarms. Get cameras."
"You just gotta be on high alert and vigilant, and everybody has to come and do their part," said Boyd.
Abington police are working with state and federal law enforcement to tackle this nationwide problem.