Archive for Sunday, June 14, 2009

As theft rises during recession, stores step up anti-crime methods

June 14, 2009


The LaneHawk loss prevention device is shown March 24 at a Kroger store in Gahanna, Ohio. Stores are employing new measures to fight back against rising theft problems during the recession.

The LaneHawk loss prevention device is shown March 24 at a Kroger store in Gahanna, Ohio. Stores are employing new measures to fight back against rising theft problems during the recession.

— With shoplifting on the rise — including organized teams sweeping through stores and lifting scores of items in minutes — retailers are beefing up plainclothes patrols and video surveillance, and competitors are working together to prevent crime.

Stores are running online stings and sending security guards onto sales floors posing as customers. The FBI helped create a database for trading notes on suspects and their methods. Minneapolis-based Target Corp. even has a forensic lab and tracks video feed from its 1,700 stores at regional hubs.

“In light of today’s economy and the expense pressure, it is an investment that shows good return,” said Brad Brekke, a former FBI special agent who heads assets protection for Target. “There is definitely economic pressure generating more activity across the board — fraud, theft, cyber crime. The intensity has gone up as the economy has gone down.”

The National Retail Federation, a trade group, says nearly half of 115 retailers it surveyed are spending more on crime-fighting — some companies spend more than $1 million a year just on personnel hired to stop crime rings. The NRF, which opens a loss prevention conference Monday in Los Angeles, says 92 percent of the surveyed retailers were victims of organized theft teams last year, an 8 percent increase, even as many saw slumping sales.

More individuals are shoplifting, as in several steak-stealing incidents in Kroger Co. grocery stores across the country this year. But retailers say the vast majority of their losses are from thefts by organized rings that usually send in a small group including a getaway driver, an in-store lookout and several “shoppers.”

Joe LaRocca, a senior adviser for the retail federation, said it only makes sense to cooperate with competitors to fight the problem, which officials peg at $35 billion a year and rising.

“You know you’re getting hit and your neighbor is getting hit and, by working together, you have a much better rate of identification and prevention,” LaRocca said.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Saks Inc., Ann Taylor Stores Corp. and others share information in the 2-year-old national database with the hope of stopping organized teams that take medicines, popular-brand clothes, video games and electronics — items that can be quickly resold in small shops, flea markets and online.

“I’m even amazed sometimes at what these guys do,” said Jerry Biggs, who heads anti-organized crime efforts for the Walgreen Co. drugstore chain. “They’re in and out in four minutes. They can go from store to store, do this all day long.”

In what Florida authorities dubbed “Operation Hot Milk,” 21 people were arrested in March in connection with a multimillion-dollar baby formula theft ring. Generally, men acted as lookouts and getaway drivers while women slipped cans of powdered formula worth about $25 each into their bags. Polk County Sheriff’s deputies began investigating in late 2008 after finding stolen baby formula during a traffic stop.

Biggs said the rings know more households are looking harder for bargains — often online, where many high-volume thefts are fenced, or in flea markets and small shops — during the recession.

“It’s created a larger demand for product at lower price,” he said. “People just think they’re getting good deals.”


RoeDapple 9 years ago

Saw an interesting scam at Walmart a few days ago. One girl distracted the 'Greeter' with a soft drink spill. As the greeter rushed over with paper towels in hand to clean up the mess two other ladies came around the corner from the direction of the pharmacy, shopping cart loaded with already bagged items and rushed out the door while greeter's back was turned toward them. It all happened so smoothly I had to think about it for a few seconds, standing there with a stunned look I'm sure, until it dawned on me what happened.

Leslie Swearingen 9 years ago

You are saying they did not pay, so they had to run out as soon as the bagged goods were put in the cart. What about the cashier? Didn't he/she give the alarm as soon as they started running?

RoeDapple 9 years ago

I think they brought their own bags, found an isle with no traffic, bagged them and waited for the distraction.......

somebodynew 9 years ago

Roe- you very well could be correct. That is a tatic that these people use. The cashiers would not even see the people leaving as they are probably busy dealing with people in line. And the "greeters" they are my age or older and aren't going to stop a group even if they did notice. There should have been alarms sounded tho (I think) but haven't been to WalMart in awhile.

This is a security issue, not something an "older" person (I refuse to call myself elderly) should be on.

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