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Police: Holiday Shoppers Provide Cover For Shoplifting Pros

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A pile of damaged goods left behind in a parking lot. (credit: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

A pile of damaged goods left behind in a parking lot. (credit: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The holidays always bring Christmas shoppers to malls, but the season also brings people looking for a ‘5-finger discount.’ It’s not that there’s necessarily more retail crime going on, but crowded stores provide thieves with cover.

“They’re [retailers] fully staffed, they’re all on their guard for this,” explained Major Robert Sherwin, with the Dallas Police Department’s Property Crimes Division. “But ‘boosters’, is what we call these people who go out and professionally steal, the boosters are out in force because the crowds [unintentionally] help them conceal getting this product out.”

Remember shoplifting, plain and simple, is stealing so that can come in many different forms. Major Sherwin quoted a statistic from the National Retail Federation (NRF). “About 50-percent of retailers loses come from employee theft.”

If you’re envisioning dark shades and a trench coat try again. Retail theft is big business and the NRF ranks Dallas as one of the top cities in the nation for shoplifting.

Last year the Dallas Police Department started the “Organized Retail Theft Initiative” and as part of it Sherwin said officials have been discussing the problem of theft with business owners. “During these meetings with the retailers we found very interesting information, they all started talking about organized retail theft,” Sherwin said. “Shoplifting is people taking stuff, maybe for personal use. Organized retail theft is people entering a store with the sole purpose of stealing large quantities of merchandise that they resell.”

Of the 125 retail companies surveyed by the NRF, a record setting 96-percent said their company has been the victim of organized retail crime in the past year.

You might be thinking stolen computers, televisions or jewelry, but Sherwin says there’s a wide range of items being sold to fencing operations by shoplifters. “You have such things as Tide detergent… diabetic test strips, baby formula, clothing with the tags on it, just a massive amount of merchandise.”

The NRF survey also asked retailers about their most serious organized retail crime problems. They cited not only returned stolen merchandise and gift card fraud, but digital receipt fraud and an increase in ‘smash and grab’ incidents.

Dallas police authorities are focusing on shutting down the large fencing operations and thus ‘starving’ the market. “If you can’t sell it, you can’t convert it to money, [then] you’re not gonna steal it,” Sherwin said.

Dallas police say they have shut down 80 fencing operators in the city.

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