Authorities are warning the public about a rapid increase in organized retail theft, which involves a group of people working together to steal and then selling the stolen goods online, according to ABC News.
This type of theft has been happening for years, but recently it has escalated to include violence, ABC News reported. Federal authorities now call it an “absolute threat” to public health, saying that gangs and even suspected terrorists are profiting off of organized retail theft.
“These criminal networks, they may be full-time drug traffickers, but they see an opportunity to work with a crew that’s already stealing,” said Raul Aguilar, who battles organized crime with Homeland Security Investigations. “And because it’s hundreds of millions of dollars, [the money they make] can easily be diverted for [other] kinds of activities.”
Organized retail theft is not a matter of making ends meet, it is “theft for greed, not theft for need,” said Scott Glenn, the vice president for asset protection at Home Depot. The thieves don’t just hit Home Depot and go home, Glenn said, they hit up multiple stores in one evening.
This year, a Home Depot employee was fatally shot when he tried to confront someone stealing from the store. “Blake’s life was cut short by this senseless act of violence that started as a theft and turned into a robbery and ended in his murder,” said Pleasanton Lt. Erik Silacci during a press briefing about the shooting, according to ABC 7 news.
Glenn said that they investigated roughly 400 cases of organized retail theft last year, which equates to more than one a day. The numbers are “growing double digits year over year,” he said.
They take everything of value they can find, this includes spools of wire and power tools, according to ABC News. “They do a lot of research about what is profitable,” Aguilar said.
There was a 26% increase in organized retail theft from 2000 to 2021, according to the most recent survey from the National Retail Federation. This equates to tens of billions of dollars lost.
There are two critical components in this increase in theft, according to Glenn. One is the proliferation of masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and the anonymity it provides, as well as online marketplaces where sellers can be anonymous, ABC News reported.
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