TWINSBURG, Ohio (WJW) – Police are warning parents who drop off and pick up their children at daycare that they may be targeted by an organized group of thieves.

A Summit County woman was dropping off her twin 3-year-old sons at the KinderCare Learning Center in Twinsburg last Thursday morning when she was victimized by the crooks.

Paige Pennington says she was stunned. She returned to the parking lot and discovered that thieves smashed out the window in her SUV and took her purse.

“Total disbelief that someone could break into my car and take that purse,” she said. “Every single credit card, my ID, my insurance card, everything you need. I mean, my life was in that purse.”

Twinsburg Police say smash and grabs outside daycare centers are not uncommon. The goal of the thieves is to get their hands on IDs, credit cards and checkbooks. 

“A lot of times, immediately afterwards, they’ll go to a store and they’ll try to use the credit cards immediately to try to buy merchandise or gift cards, just to get some sort of value out of it because they know their time is limited before the cards are canceled,” said Twinsburg Police Detective Eric Hendershott.

In fact, after the smash and grab last Thursday, Pennington had to act quickly to limit her losses.

“It’s been hours and hours on the phone, canceling credit cards, sitting at the DMV. It’s been costly, buying new car seats, buying a window,” she said.

Investigators believe the thieves are part of a criminal organization that travels around the country in rental cars and vans, targeting victims in the parking lots of daycare centers, gyms and parks.

Detectives say the group specializes in identity fraud and their goal is to identify anyone who may be distracted and prone to leave their purse or wallet in their vehicle.

“In a matter of minutes, that’s all it takes, and a lot of times the suspects are sitting there in the parking lot, already knowing what they’re going to do and they’re just looking for their next victim,” said Detective Hendershott. 

“It makes me sad because it’s a vulnerable group. They are parents that are busy and distracted. We’re focused on our kids and their book bags, their snacks, their sippy cups,” Pennington said.

Pennington is sharing her story in the hope that it will alert other parents to the risk of a smash and grab and motivate them to take precautions.

“Definitely don’t leave any valuables in your car and pay attention to everything around you. I did not and now I definitely will,” she said.

Shortly after the smash and grab in Twinsburg, another parent’s car was broken into outside a daycare center in Hudson.

Investigators suspect the crimes were committed by the same thieves.