Saturday, July 29, 2017

Organized Retail Crime

Boxes of razors, shoved down someone's pants. Thousands of dollars in Lululemon yoga apparel, grabbed from a store in the middle of the night while alarms blare. This is the world of organized retail crime, a crime that is costing Canadian businesses billions each year. Organized groups are systematically stripping stores of targeted items and reselling it for huge profits. But these thieves aren't going after electronics or jewelry, something most people commonly associate with smash and grabs. Instead, they're pilfering things like cologne, baby formula and clothes.
From a bland Toronto office filled with television monitors, Sean Sportun keeps an eye on 560 Mac’s stores in Canada. The live video streams randomly from the locations. he loads a recorded clip. It shows a slim woman in a head scarf, sweater and floor-length skirt, sneaking into the back room of a Mac’s. The store’s walk-in safe is open and the woman heads straight for it. She stuffs merchandise into laundry-sized bags concealed beneath her skirt. The bags are latched onto a belt around her waist. There is a name for her garment: It’s called a booster skirt.
After stuffing the bags to capacity, she hobbles out of the backroom. She is no longer slim. Her skirt has ballooned out and she knocks merchandise onto the floor in her wake. Stepping out of the back room, she is engulfed by accomplices who shield her from view of the lone clerk as they exit. Total take: $30,000 of tobacco products in five minutes.

Thieves use a variety of methods, but most of them involve an element of distraction. They also use specially lined bags to defeat store security alarms. They use props, including wheelchairs and even costumes. They rely on ruses, like walking out the door beside a customer who appears honest.
When the alarm goes off, the honest customer stops and looks around. The thief keeps moving, into a waiting car or busy crowd. Stolen goods are sold at pop-up events, warehouse sales, flea markets and low-income malls in neighbourhoods where people are trying to make ends meet, they won’t ask questions. Stolen goods may also show up mixed among legitimate goods at convenience stores and discount stores.

The three-man anti-fencing unit at Vancouver Police Department (VPD) has taken down 53 fencing operations in three years, shutting down underground stores where goods from Aritzia, Costco, the Gap, Holt Renfrew and Sport Chek, among others, were being sold at half price.