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Cops Score Big Wins Against Robbers This Holiday

As last-minute Christmas shoppers flock to retail shops, they’ll have plenty of company from shoplifters. But even as shoplifting incidents are on the rise coast-to-coast, law enforcement has had some big successes leading up to the holiday.

San Francisco Police last week announced it made 60 arrests as a result of a secretive, prolonged sting that targeted organized retail crime syndicates.

Meanwhile in Portland, Ore., a city that has been ravaged by shoplifting, police struck back by arresting 64 people and serving 70 warrants. KOIN TV reported that the stolen goods recovered included 10 vehicles, three illegal guns and $8,743 worth of merchandise.

On the East Coast, police in Jersey City, N.J. have found similar success going undercover to stop shoplifting, using plain-clothed officers to make more than a dozen shoplifting arrests since Dec. 10, and in Lancaster, Mass., on Wednesday, a grand jury indicted a local video store owner and one of his employees, who allegedly led a team of more than 20 organized shoplifters.

According to court documents, Adopt A Video store owner John Duplease would pay drug addicts in cash to help them with their habits and he would re-sell the goods they brought him on eBay and Amazon.

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In Southern California on Wednesday, a suspect used a pick-ax-style hammer to smash jewelry cases at a Macy’s in Simi Town Center Mall, according to a KTLA.com report citing local police, which are still seeking the suspect who fled. A pair of smash-and-grab suspects breaking into jewelry cases at Del Amo Fashion Center also in Southern California were detailed by bystanders and military personnel at a nearby recruiting center, CBS Los Angeles reported Wednesday.

Meanwhile, security footage dated Dec. 17 shows two suspects walking out of a West Seattle Runner’s store up the coast in Washington without paying for merchandise.

The rural lifestyle retailer Tractor Supply Company has also been unusually targeted of late.

On Dec. 12, a thief cut a hole into a fence at an Oroville, Calif. store and got off with a motorcycle valued at $1,300 before he was arrested; a store employee at a Hattiesburg, Miss. Tractor Supply was arrested for embezzling nearly $60,000 and in Covington, Tenn., a suspect almost got away with stealing a lawnmower by posing as the store’s manager.

According to police, 47-year-old Byron Stevens pulled up to the Covington location and said he was the manager of the Tractor Supply in nearby Brownsville and needed the Cub Cadet for a store-to-store transfer. The employees fell for the act and let him drive off, but then called the Brownsville store, which knew of no such transfer. Police were able to track Stevens down and arrest him on felony theft.

These victories for law and order come as more places report stark increases in shoplifting from last year.

One mall in Towson, Md. reported 211 shoplifting incidents from Jan. 1-Oct. 10, 2022 after just 86 from the same dates in 2021. And Georgia’s Chatham County reported shoplifting cases shot up to 405 incidences from 227 in 2021.

In Ohio, a suspect was arrested on Dec. 6 for stealing “armloads” of sports apparel from the Strongville’s SouthPark Center shopping mall. Virginia’s Chesterfield County Police Department is looking for a suspect who stole from a TJ Maxx store on Oct. 17 and Nov. 5.

Much of the increase in shoplifting can be attributed to self-scan checkout machines, used heavily by a major retail chains like Target, which has reported more than $400 million in losses due to theft in 2022.

One suspect at a Target in Chandler, Ariz. made off with more than $2,000 of Legos and bedding on multiple occasions between August and October using the self-checkout line.

According to police, Luis Sanchez Jouret would take a photo on his phone of the bar code on the cheapest item in his cart. At the checkout, he would scan that item, then scan the bar code on his phone as he swiped each more expensive item through, making it appear as though he was scanning each.

Police said Legos and bedding were probably his choice because they had more value among items that did not have security tags attached. The incentive for these types of thefts is easy resale on the Internet.

That’s where the federal government has to intervene and is close to doing so with the House of Representatives passing the INFORM (Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces) Act in November. It’s expected to pass the Senate as well before the session expires in January.

The INFORM act forces online marketplaces to verify high-volume third-party sellers by authenticating the seller’s government ID, tax ID, bank account information, and contact information. The bill defines high-volume third-party sellers as “vendors who have made 200 or more discrete sales in a 12-month period amounting to $5,000 or more.” 

“It’s really easy to steal and item and put it for sale online,” David Johnston, vice president of asset protection and retail operations for the National Retail Foundation (NRF), previously told Sourcing Journal. “One of the challenges we’ve had is sellers can kind of hide behind anonymity online. Now, some [marketplaces] do a great job helping law enforcement, helping retailers, but there are other online marketplaces with lax policies and procedures. The INFORM Act, at the national level, helps with that.” 

On Tuesday, NRF senior vice president of government relations David French applauded lawmakers’ forward motion on the INFORM Act.

“On behalf of the retail industry, we are extremely pleased negotiators included the INFORM Act in the omnibus package, and we look forward to passage in Congress this week,” he said after lawmakers included the measure in year-end congressional omnibus legislation. “The INFORM Act will bring transparency to online marketplaces by requiring them to verify the identities of high-volume third-party sellers. Doing so will help curb the fencing of stolen merchandise and address the sale of counterfeit goods, which are common tactics of organized retail crime (ORC) groups.”

He went on to say that “[w]hile ORC can vary in scope and scale, the common denominator is that the activity is a coordinated, organized effort. These criminal rings operate sophisticated enterprises that aim to ransack retailers and sell illegally obtained merchandise for profit, endangering both employees and consumers.”

Though law enforcement has scored some wins, the holiday season has seen its share of victories for thieves, too. In Cedar Glen, Calif., an artsy boutique on Ventura Blvd. was the victim of a smash and grab by a pair of assailants who, according to police, appeared to be looking for cash to steal. When they couldn’t find that, they absconded with thousands of dollars worth of items, including a pillow.

Police are still on the hunt, as are law enforcement officers in Germany who are trying to track down the perpetrators of what has to be, by far, the biggest heist of the holiday season.

Police in Berlin say more than 1,000 watches valued at approximately $10 million were stolen from a storage facility for Watchmaster where they were awaiting inspection, appraisal or sale.

According to the Robb Report, which is also owned by Sourcing Journal’s parent company, PMC, the thieves managed to “plow through a secure 1.75-meter-thick steel door, bypass multiple alarmed security points and navigate an anti-theft fog system.”

The pre-owned retailer has since called in an insolvency expert to restructure the business in the wake of the heist.