Being ‘Hit’ by an Organized Retail Crime (ORC) Shoplifting Theft Ring?

Well, with the upcoming busy (we hope!) holiday shopping season rapidly approaching, the chances are that your store will be ‘hit’ in the very near future, if it is on the ORC thieves’ shopping list. It doesn’t matter whether you are located in a major metropolitan area or in a rural setting, a mall, strip-center, or convenient stand alone location. Furthermore, it does not matter whether you work in a retailer that sells various clothing including socks, underwear, and/or T-shirts, or one that sells such things as household items, personal hygiene goods and over-the-counter drugs, foodstuffs, electronics, or jewelry; you are very likely to become of victim of ORC. Also, keep in mind that small ticket items are easier to “fence” or “unload” on the street, flea market, or Internet – plus these items are much more difficult to trace.

The Ocala, Florida Sheriff’s Detectives discovered a trunk full of stolen merchandise when pulling over one of the 31 ORC suspects’ vehicles during a mid-August bust this year. In addition to those 31 arrests, it should be noted that the sheriff’s office and Ocala police arrested 33 others during a similar sting in March of this year.

The Sheriff’s Office said that the M.O. of this group was to “sell” to a mule who would either buy the stuff by paying with drugs or cash. The mule would then take it to a “booster” who in turn would deliver the stolen goods to a fence, who might sell it on various internet sites, at yard sales, or flea markets.

As for the severity of shoplifting and ORC, according to the NRF 2013 Organized Retail Crime Survey, 93.5% of retailers surveyed reported being victimized by ORC gangs in the past year, and 81.3% of those surveyed stated ORC activity is increasing. It is estimated that ORC activity costs retailers $30 billion annually. This crime is happening everywhere and in all types of stores. A few short headlines:

• South Florida: $15 million retail theft ring busted.

• San Francisco, CA: Seven females and two males wearing hooded sweatshirts overwhelmed the clerks as they ran through the store grabbing merchandise.

• Huntsville, AL: Three men with long criminal records indicted for ORC theft after being caught stealing electronics.

• Baton Rouge, LA: Six women arrested after an investigation into thefts at multiple stores.

• Trenton, NJ: Seven indicted as part of an organized retail theft ring that allegedly stole over $800,000 in jewelry in New Jersey and five other states.

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The above apprehensions are just a “drop-in-the-bucket” when it comes to ORC activity, and thieves actually being caught. So, what can you do to prepare?

First, we do not have enough space in this article to list all of the proactive steps that a retailer can take to prevent shoplifting. So while it is important for all store personnel to be well versed in what specific actions they are to take when a suspected shoplifter is nearby, I am relying on you to ensure that both your permanent and temporary staff are properly trained. Therefore:

Key #1: Awareness Training

Key #2: Know Company Policy: If you do not already know, find out what your company’s policy is in regards to what specific actions store staff and management personnel are to take regarding the approach, chasing, stopping and/or detention of anyone suspected of shoplifting.

Key #3: Law Enforcement Help: Today, it is the exception for local authorities not to be willing to help businesses in a variety of ways. You can count on them to give awareness presentations, brief management on crimes happening in the proximity of your store, share lookout bulletins, and help with your anti-shoplifting training, when requested.

Last, but certainly not least, Key #4: Physical Security Safeguards: Test anti-theft equipment to ensure its proper functionality. Also, ensure that store personnel are adequately trained in what actions they are to take when an alarm/signal sounds. (Many times, while shopping in those stores with EAS coverage at exit doors and an EAS alarm sounds, I find that more often than not, the alarm is ignored by the store’s staff.) Ensure that your staff is well trained and knows how to react. Give consideration to implementing a “test audit” to ensure that proper actions are being taken when an alarm sounds. Let your staff know that these audits are taking place. To do less in those stores where the staff is ignoring alarms, greatly increases your location’s risk.

And, never forget that customer service is one of the best strategies to prevent shoplifting. Thieves hate special attention – give them plenty of it! Have a great, successful and safe holiday! $

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