How Organized Shoplifters Steal Billions Each Year


Organized groups of retail thieves have transformed the nickel-and-dime crime of shoplifting to a skilled profession, says the Wilmington (De.) News Journal. They strike stores with methodical precision, sweep shelves of goods into detection-proof bags, then race out in pursuit of their next hit. “It’s no longer the teenager trying to pick up lip gloss,” said Delaware prosecutor Christina Showalter. “It can be very profitable.” Estimates of organized retail theft losses in the United States range from $15 billion to $37 billion a year, and a hardworking thief can reportedly earn up to $5,000 a week — at 30 cents on each dollar of an item’s value.

There’s a mind-set that store thefts are petty crimes, experts say, and there are some problems getting full cooperation from victims. Retailers say that’s been changing in Delaware. By focusing on such moderately priced, easily resold goods as baby formula, razors and cold medicine, careful thieves can avoid getting caught with enough items to surpass the $1,000 felony threshold in Delaware. Often, they come with their own shopping list, ready to steal what has been requested by the fences or even by their neighbors. Prized goods include mundane but potentially profitable household items such as pain relievers, pregnancy tests and hemorrhoid cream. Baby formula is particularly coveted — “gold in a can” is what some retailers call it. A well-organized team of thieves can haul in $10,000 to $20,000 worth of goods a day. Some use foil-lined “booster bags” that literally foil the electronic anti-theft sensors attached to items; some bring pliers to pry off the tags. Stores are seeking technical solutions, from video systems programmed to “spot” suspicious activity to sensors that can defeat booster bags.


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