(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.
"The military is aware of the situation and they're monitoring it closely," Butler said.
(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Vicki Allen)