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Tis' the season for shoplifters

By Jim Fair, Editor
Published on Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tis’ the season for shoplifters, according to Greer Police Department Lt. Jim Holcombe and the National Retail Federation (NRF).

Holcombe concurs with the NRF’s finding that 40 percent of theft caused by shoplifting typically happens during the holiday season.

“It’s easier for people to bleed better in crowded stores,” Holcombe said. “It’s normal now to see people shoplifting although it doesn’t have to be. The thing you see is that it is as frequently done by people who don’t have to. They have money in their pocket to purchase the items.”

 “This year, the indicators we have seen year-to-date all show that retail crime has been on the rise. Organized retail crime, which is professional shoplifting and return fraud, where people return things back to the store, is up," said Joseph LaRocca, the NRF's Vice President Of Loss Prevention, in a report.

Holcombe said last year baby formula was the shoplifter’s item of choice and this year razor blades appear to be a popular target. Holcombe said Greenville County deputies raided a storage building last year that was packed with baby formula. “It’s expensive, just like razor blades, and they are easy to discard,” Holcombe said.

Retailers are hiring specialized loss prevention personnel by going high-tech with digital cameras. There are more cameras than ever before because they are less expensive.

But thieves are savvy enough, at times, to outwit the stores’ security. They may bring their own inventory control tabs that beat the store’s system.

In the NRF report, LaRocca said, “We have seen shoplifting gangs continue to evolve in terms of their skill and technology. Over the years, we have seen an increase in organized crime activity. In 2010, 89 percent of retailers polled were victims of organized shopping crime. In 2011, it was 94.5 percent. So, we have seen organized retail crime on the rise and the skill of these groups and the types of tools they use continue to advance.”

Many retailers now have a special database to help catch people who return items they never bought. The stores are electronically keeping track of who returns the most items in order to figure out who may be gaming the system.

Holcombe said the best deterrent is still vigilant employees. Greer police routinely meet with the stores’ new owners when they set up business. “Often people will move or shift to another store and sometimes that contact falls through the cracks,” Holcombe said.

Customers can be as good a deterrent to fighting shoplifting, Holcombe said. “The citizen needs to be a good witness. They should have as accurate description of the person as possible and contact the store manager.”

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