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Organized Retail Theft Puts Workers and the Public into Serious Ongoing Danger

04 Aug, 2023 Chriss Swaney

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Pittsburgh, PA ( -- So-called organized retail crime, where groups of criminals steal prized items and resell them online have reached unprecedented levels, sparking deadly violence at some stores, according to Jason Straczewski, vice president of government relations and political affairs at the National Retail Federation (NRF).

The National Retail Federation says organized retail crime is the main reason for retail “shrink” – a mismatch between actual inventory and what is on the books – which reached $94.5 billion in 2021, an increase of almost $4 billion year over year.

Federal authorities also now warn that organized retail theft has become an “absolute threat” to public safety and public health, declaring that violent gangs, dangerous international crime syndicates, and even groups with suspected ties to terrorism are increasingly dabbling in organized retail crime across the United States.

“Criminal groups have become more brazen and violent in their tactics. That significantly impacts consumer confidence and the overall shopping experience. And has led to hiring challenges for retailers in an already competitive labor market,’’ said Straczewski of the NRF.

In some cases, the rampant crime and dangers coupled with it have led to slower foot traffic. It should come as no surprise that these factors can have a negative impact on businesses and can contribute to the decision to close a specific location.

“Several national brands recently closed locations in the San Francisco area, with many saying that retail crime was a factor,’’ said Lori Moran, vice president of Ballymoney Real Estate Services Inc. “Retailers are simply not going to tolerate this kind of crime anymore and the danger it poses to employees."

Attempted thefts at multiple Home Depot locations resulted in the deaths of two employees. This past April, Blake Mohs, a 26-year-old Home Depot employee in the retailer's loss prevention department, was killed after trying to prevent the theft of electronic tools at a California store, and Gary Rasor, who was violently pushed down by a man stealing three pressure washers, died from his injuries a few days after turning 83. Ironically, his family had tried to get him to quit his Home Depot job prior to his death. But Rasor refused, and told his children he loved working at Home Depot where he trained young employees and enjoyed interacting with customers.

In New York City, city police tracked the brazen organized retail thefts at big box stores to a gang of 300 individuals. But it is not just big box stores that have to deal with the 26 percent increases in organized retail crime.

“Shops and stores of all sizes are getting hit and employees are getting anxious about working in these
stores,’’ said Straczewski of the NRF.

“Employees complain now about rude and aggressive teens who come into stores and violently throw products around and intimidate workers,’’ said Moran, who also heads the East Liberty Chamber of Commerce in Pittsburgh, Pa.

“We are working with police and other civic groups, but it is a very difficult problem,’’ she said.

In Pittsburgh, the youth detention center has been closed for the past several years
and there is no place to house juvenile offenders. But it is not just store confrontations that hurt consumers and employees.

Paula Calabrese, a Pittsburgh consultant, said she recently had her credit card hacked after
parking in a downtown garage.

“They stole $4,000 to buy car parts on my card, but luckily the bank tracked it down,“ said Calabrese. “You are almost afraid to go and o anything anymore."

The NRF has long asked Congress to give law enforcement funding and other resources to combat organized retail crime. Last year, the NRF successfully advocated for the bipartisan INFORM Consumer Act, which was passed at the end of 2022 as part of an omnibus spending package and signed into law in January. The measure will help bring transparency to online marketplaces by requiring them to
verify the identity of high-volume third party sellers. Doing so will help curb the fencing of stolen merchandise.

“We are also pushing for passage of the Combating Organized Retail Crime Act,’’ said
NRF’s Straczewski.

The legislation, introduced in both the House and Senate, includes many important proposals by the NRF.

It would establish a new Organized Retail Crime Coordination Center to align and counter organized crime activities nationally and internationally by developing a national level organized crime intelligence agency and cross-agency investigators to serve as a center of expertise for training and technical assistance. Retailers lost more than $100 billion in sales last year because of organized retail crime, according to NRF.

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    About The Author

    • Chriss Swaney

      Chriss Swaney is a freelance reporter who has written for Antique Trader Magazine, Reuters, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, the Burlington Free Press, UPI, The Tribune-Review and the Daily Record.

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