Retailers this holiday season are preparing to protect themselves against swarms of teenagers and young adults who plot via Twitter, phone texts, and Facebook to descend on stores and steal merchandise, says the Wall Street Journal in an article available only to paid subscribers. Law enforcement officials call them “flash robs,” a criminal version of the “flash mob” phenomenon in which participants use social media to organize impromptu gatherings, from dances in shopping malls to uprisings in the Middle East.
In Philadelphia, several dozen boys swarmed into a suburban Sears in June and took thousands of dollars in merchandise including sneakers, socks, and anything else they could snatch. Retail chains including Filene’s Basement, Armani Exchange, and The North Face were victimized by similar incidents in Chicago this spring in which teens ran into stores in Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile shopping district, screamed, knocked over displays and fled with jeans, sweaters, and shirts. The National Retail Federation says flash-mob attacks were reported by 10 percent of the 106 retailers it surveyed in July, a group that included department stores and big-box chains, as well as grocery and drug-store operators.