Electronic tags help retailers combat shoplifting this holiday

Experts expect boost in shoplifting this holiday season


Nov. 21--With the economy in the tank, retailers are bracing for a double whammy this holiday shopping season: sluggish sales and a spike in shoplifting.

Experts predict shoplifting will increase as financial pressures catapult cash-strapped consumers into crime.

Retailers in Florida report there has been 15 percent more shoplifting in the first six months of this year than in all of 2007, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.There are no estimates on how much stores will lose to thieves when people are buying holiday gifts in November and December, but last year retailers lost nearly $35 billion to theft, according to a recent retail security survey conducted by the University of Florida.

In economic downturns, many people who would not ordinarily resort to criminal activity end up doing so, said Richard Mangan, a criminology professor at Florida Atlantic University and former federal drug agent.

ADT Security Services in Boca Raton, a specialist in electronic security nationwide, offers retailers a variety of anti-theft devices to help deter shoplifters over the holidays.

On Thursday, ADT officials demonstrated some of the electronic security tags the company designed for retailers at its anti-shoplifting technology center in Boca. The security tags, which are affixed to electronics, apparel, makeup, jewelry and other merchandise, trigger an alarm if they are not removed or scanned before exiting stores.

Home Depot, Macy's and Office Depot are a handful of South Florida retailers using the electronic tags to minimize theft during the holiday season.

With fewer holiday hires in stores this year, retailers are relying more on technology to help trim losses, experts say.

Electronic tags have played a major role in deterring shoplifters for many years, said Ed Wolfe, a veteran loss prevention executive, formerly with Neiman Marcus and Home Depot. That's good for consumers because more shoplifting means higher store prices, Wolfe said.

The tags also act as visual deterrents to thieves, said Scott Clements, vice president for ADT's Sensormatic Retail Solutions business during Thursday's product demonstration.

Depending on store size and layout, number of exits, cash registers and the merchandise, costs to use these anti-theft devices can range from $15,000 to $100,000 per store, said Bob Tucker, a spokesman for ADT, a Tyco International company.

Retailers also grapple with return fraud, which occurs when shoplifters try to cash in on stolen goods.

The National Retail Federation predicts store returns of holiday purchases this year could reach $47 billion, of which $3.54 billion is expected to be returned fraudulently.

Overall, about 27 million people a year steal goods from retailers, according to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness of shoplifting's harmful effects on people and their families.

"We've already seen a fairly significant increase in the number of people court-ordered to complete our educational programs so it appears the economy is already taking a toll," spokeswoman Barbara Staib said.