Published: Dec 16, 2010 11:57 PM EST
Updated: Dec 16, 2010 7:49 PM EST

LEE COUNTY, Fla.- Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers says it's experiencing a record-breaking surge in callers as the holidays approach. The agency paid out more than $8,000 in reward money Wednesday alone to anonymous tipsters. That's the largest payout in its nearly 30-year history.

"It was nonstop. Call after call. At one point, my partner and I looked at each other and said, can you believe this?" Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers Coordinator Trish Routte said.

Crime Stoppers says it's a year for the books and a sign of the times. More and more tipsters are calling in and passing on anonymous information, in exchange for cold hard cash.

"People have got to pay their mortgages, their water bills. Put food on their plates, presents under the Christmas tree," Routte said Thursday.

Over $143,000 in reward money has been doled out this year alone. All money paid for catching crooks, comes from crooks paying fines during the judicial process.

"We're able to use criminals money to put more criminals behind bars. So we're not using tax dollars. It's a beautifully working system because we're not having to tap into that tax base," Routte said.

The tips have led to the arrest of 49 criminals this month, many stemming from high-profile cases like last week's Bank of America robbery.

"We're talking about dangerous people. Robbers, bank robbers, people who have the ability to commit more crimes if they're not apprehended," Routte said.

But as callers continue to look for Christmas cash, Crime Stoppers says more criminals will be spending the holidays behind bars.

"The bad guys are probably not real thrilled with us right now, and that's perfectly fine with me. They're going to wake up Christmas morning in a jail cell," Routte said.

Starting in 2011, Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers will also start up a text-friendly tip line.