RILA survey: Retail crime on rise

The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) today released data from a survey of America's largest retailers, and the survey generally shows a rise in retail crime that the organization says is linked to "an economy in distress."

The survey, which follows the group's December 2008 Crime Trends Survey, sought to quantify the measured or perceived changes in crimes against retailers over the last four months.

The survey found that 61 percent of survey respondents said that amateur/opportunistic shoplifting had increased. None of the surveyed retailers said they had seen a decrease in this area of shoplifting.

But it wasn't just amateur shoplifting crimes that were on the rise. Some 72 percent of respondents said they have seen an increase in organized retail crime (ORC), and 52 percent said they had experienced a rise in financial fraud.

Paul Jones, vice president of asset protection for RILA, noted that the increase in ORC should set off alarms not only within the retail community, but also within the business and law enforcement community. Organized retail crime typically involves organized groups of criminals operating shoplifting rings which have networks to fence their stolen goods, which may also appear on Internet auction sites like eBay, as well as at flea markets.

"These trends confirm that retail criminals are seeking to capitalize on the current economic climate to expand their activities," said Jones. "Their resulting ability to fund other crimes should be a concern to everyone."

"Shoplifting" is a commonly used term to explain retail theft. Society accepts and uses the term "shoplifting" to downplay the stigma of being labeled a thief. Studies have shown that out of every ten customers that walk through a retailers doors, one is a potential thief. If a retailer has one-thousand customers enter their store - this means one-hundred will steal if presented with the right opportunity. This is the opportunistic thief retailers spend the majority of their security budget to combat. In recent times the shoplifter vs. customer count may have even increased. All you have to do is read the police reports from around the nation, as the majority of them show sharp increases in the numbers of thieves apprehended and brought to the attention of the courts.

According to indepdent retail security consultant Curtis Baillie, president of Security Consulting Strategies and author of SIW's Security2LP blog, the opportunistic thieves can turn into more professional thieves.

"With the increase of opportunistic thefts comes a corresponding rise in professional thefts (ORC) with many 'shoplifters' turning professional in order to supplement their income," said Baillie. "Consider the two women recently caught in Port St. Lucie, Florida who were caught stealing razor blades and vitamins. When confronted, the women ran off, but were later apprehended. Among the items left behind, in the carts, were two packages of recently developed photographs of the women with their names and phone numbers on the envelopes. Razor blades and vitamins are items often targeted by professional thieves due to the ability to sell these type items for cash or drugs. These women were obviously armateurs trying to turn pro. The increase in theft is not just a problem inherant to the United States. Recent discussions I had with news organizations in Canada and Europe also centered around the topic of increasing merchant thefts."

Participating in the RILA survey were 32 of the nation's largest retailers across all categories: grocery, mass merchant, apparel, electronics/appliances, fabric/craft, and specialty stores.

RILA has been holding its 2009 RILA Loss Prevention, Auditing and Safety Conference this week at the Gaylord Palms Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. The event concludes today, May 6, 2009.