The number of headlines across the country regarding Organized Retail Crime (ORC) are mind-bogging: Tijuana shoplifting ring hit U.S. malls for $20 million.
These well organized shoplifting crews not only targeted malls around San Diego County – teams traveled as far away as Washington, Illinois, Oregon, Maryland and points east. Just how serious is this problem? According to the National Retail Federation, “Organized crime costs US retailers nearly $30 billion a year. In recent years, large theft rings have been broken up in Texas, New Mexico and other states.”
The Tijuana Connection
On Wednesday, September 6, 2017, over 250 federal law enforcement agents – armed with warrants – arrested at least 14 of the 22 people indicted by a San Diego, California federal grand jury and after searches of three homes in the San Diego area $30,000 in cash, a dozen trash bags filled with new clothing and security tags were seized. Additional items recovered in those raids included several piles of expensive shoes, jewelry and perfume. The indictment alleges that these thieves typically stole thousands of dollars in merchandise each time, including $5,000 from an American Eagle store in Visalia, $4,500 from a Victoria’s Secret in Escondido, $10,600 from a Tommy Hilfiger store in San Clemente and $6,700 from a Las Vegas Victoria’s Secret. The crews would also take orders for clothing and items not available in California stores.
David Shaw, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego, said, “The ring operated since at least 2005. Its U.S. members smuggled in acquaintances from Mexico who had previously been deported to help steal. They’re not just shoplifting. They’re using violence to get what they want.”
According to the indictment, allegedly the stolen merchandise was then sold to vendors in Tijuana, Mexico. For example, in October 2013, one subject had more than $482,000 in merchandise that had been shoplifted from at least 57 stores, bound for south of the border. Also included in the court papers were charges of conspiracy and receiving and possessing stolen goods. Seven of the defendants are also charged with being in the U.S. illegally.
Tools of the Trade
The shoplifting crews were well organized by team leaders. Each member was assigned a specific job. The leader’s job was to scout stores and choreograph the heists using cell phones and hand signals, prosecutors said. A “blockers” job was to distract store employees or shield the movements of the “mules,” who used foil-lined “booster” bags to conceal the merchandise, while at the same time defeating security tag sensors as they exited the store.
As previously noted, these gangs are not just shoplifting. They are determined not to be apprehended and when threatened, they are known to resort to violence. Accusations include — knocking over an infant in a stroller and injuring the dad; grabbing a loss prevention officer by the throat and throwing her to the ground; and intimidating a witness from talking to police; throwing a rock through a car window — anything to get away with their crimes, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
First, let me make it perfectly clear: Shoplifting gangs such as the ones described above are extremely dangerous. So, what do I think the average retailer should do?
- Awareness is key. Understand and communicate to your associates your store’s policies relating to shoplifters and actions to be taken. Safety first!
- Form a good relationship with your local police or law enforcement agency. Keep in mind that many are over-burdened from having to deal with and investigate other types of crimes; shoplifting is not high on their priority list. Educate local police on the severity of retail theft by producing some eye-opening statistics and actual examples. Ask for help. Retailers cannot succeed in taking on organized crime thieves without assistance. Strive to open communication lines to notify police when groups of suspected thieves are spotted within your store or mall.
- Promptly pass-along and/or share information between stores, as well as to local law enforcement.
- Educate your staff regarding methods these thieves use. Ensure that they are sufficiently trained to be able to identify suspected shoplifters. Stress the importance of safety first!
Remember, the above points are critical if your store carries items that are in demand and easily resold.
Bottom line, reducing retail theft requires a three-prong approach:
Educating employees, implementing anti-theft standards and technology, and cultivating stronger relationships with law enforcement agencies, mall management, and other retailers. $