Organized Shoplifters Cost Store Owners Billions

Shoplifting by lone thieves is costly for retail establishments, but organized shoplifting is costing store owners billions of dollars each year. Find out what you can do to protect your business

Although my wife generally does the family shopping, I happened to be in a local supermarket picking up an item in my South Philadelphia neighborhood. While in line to pay for my item, I spied a rather peculiar looking and jumpy person. I paid for my item and walked into the parking lot as that peculiar-looking person bolted out of the store behind me and raced across the parking lot – the store manager and an assistant in hot pursuit.

I presumed the parking lot sprinter was a shoplifter. I waited a few minutes for the store manager to come back. The manager, a young man in his 30s, walked back to the store huffing, looking a bit dejected as they had not caught the shoplifter.

I introduced myself and asked him about his chase. He agreed to talk to me for the column, but he asked that I not use his name or the name of the supermarket.

“I almost caught him but he was really fast,” the manager said. His assistant nodded his head in agreement.

Does it pay to chase them out of the store, I asked? Are you concerned that the shoplifter may be armed and dangerous, although that is rarely the case with shoplifters?

“Yes, we have someone in the store call the police and then we go after them,” he said. “Shoplifting is so bad that we have to chase them. I knew he was shoplifting because he couldn’t look me in the eye and that’s when you know they are stealing stuff.”

I asked what he does when he catches shoplifters after a pursuit and he said that he holds them for the police.

“Shoplifters are a big problem for our stores,” he replied. “Shoplifters are the reason that the supermarket on 7th Street closed. Organized gangs of shoplifters are killing our businesses. We have to discourage them by catching them and having them arrested”

He went on to explain that he not only dealt with sole shoplifters like the one I witnessed tonight – or teenagers – he was also up against organized gangs of shoplifters who hit a store like commandos. The organized shoplifters have very specific items on their “to steal” list.

I later spoke to Lida V. Kianoury, an attorney who practices law in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I asked her if the store manager could legally detain suspected shoplifters.

“A store manager attempting to hold a shoplifter until the authorities arrive is akin to a citizen’s arrest,” Kianoury said. “If the manager acted reasonably and has probable cause, he can detain the suspected shoplifter.”

“Of course, in our litigious society, the suspected shoplifter might sue, but he or she would probably not win.” Kianoury added.

For store owners and managers like the one I encountered, chasing and detaining the suspected shoplifter is worth the risks. Shoplifting, once considered a minor crime, has become a more than 30 billion dollar a year business.

According to the FBI, teams of thieves invade a store and fill carts up with baby formula, DVDs and other high-cost items and then walk out the door past store management and security.

“The overall price tag is more than burglary, larceny, robbery and auto theft combined,” said Supervisory Special Agent Brian J. Nadeau, the program manager at the Organized Retail Theft Program at FBI Headquarters.

The FBI calls these organized shoplifters “boosters.” According to the FBI, the shoplifters are generally paid 30 cents on the dollar for the stolen items. In some cases, the shoplifters can haul off close to $10,000 worth of merchandise from a department store. The same gang might hit several stores in a single day.

Because they are organized, the shoplifters know exactly what they want and they are in and out of stores fast. The shoplifters are often given a shopping list by the criminal “fences” who buy their stolen goods.

To combat organized shoplifters, store owners should contact their local police department and ask them to train their employees to identify and apprehend shoplifters.

Law enforcement officers suggest you keep your store neat and orderly as disarray serves the shoplifters as cover. Install mirrors to eliminate blind spots in the corners. Keep your merchandise away from the door so shoplifters can’t grab it and bolt through the door. Keep expensive items in locked cases.

Design or redesign the store exits so all customers — including the thieves — must past by your security guard or cashier. Although small businesses may have limited resources, you should consider an inventory control device which will beep and let you know when your items are being smuggled out the door.

Lastly, I highly recommend a video surveillance system. Cameras not only prevent crime, they aid the police in apprehending the criminals. The store owners need all of the electronic help they can afford.

Shoplifting, after all, is not just for kids these days.

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