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    Survey: Retail Crime Rises Amid Troubled Economy

    Store operators report increases in shoplifting, financial fraud and organized retail crime.

    ORLANDO, Fla. -- A recent survey of America's largest retailers found an increase in retail crime associated with an economy in distress, according to the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA).

    The RILA Crime Trends Survey uncovered continued growth in amateur or opportunistic shoplifting events, financial fraud, robberies and burglaries, as well as large increases in organized retail crime, across all retail segments.

    As a follow up to its December 2008 Crime Trends Survey, RILA asked 32 retail loss prevention professionals from some of the largest, most successful retailers in the country to report measured or perceived changes in crimes over the last four months. Respondents included grocery, mass merchant, specialty store, apparel, electronics and appliances, and fabric and craft store operators.

    Among the findings: 61 percent of those surveyed reported having experienced an increase in amateur/opportunistic shoplifting in the last four months. None of the retailers reported a decrease in shoplifting since last surveyed, RILA stated.

    More than half (55 percent) of experienced an increase in financial fraud, while more than 70 percent reported they continue to see an increase in organized retail crime.

    Retailers also reported upward trends in regions not typically prone to such increases in crime. While complex cities and highly urbanized states are often the first to display increases in unlawful activity, the survey found that increases are occurring beyond these regions, into a number of nontraditional and rural areas.

    "These crimes present unwelcomed challenges to retailers and communities of all sizes," stated Paul Jones, vice president of asset protection for RILA.

    Organized retail crime (ORC), which is estimated to cost retailers tens of billions of dollars annually, involves sophisticated crime rings that steal and stockpile stolen merchandise, eventually selling the goods to buyers usually unaware of the item's pathway to market. Stolen merchandise is sold through flea markets, swap meets, pawn shops and increasingly through internet auction sites.

    Unlike simple shoplifting or other crimes of opportunity, ORC growth is less likely to decline on its own as the economy improves. The criminal enterprises associated with ORC become reliant on the revenue derived from the commission of this crime. The increase in ORC is particularly troubling as these criminal enterprises often use the proceeds derived from ORC to fund additional crimes, according to RILA.

    "These trends confirm that retail criminals are seeking to capitalize on the current economic climate to expand their activities. Their resulting ability to fund other crimes should be a concern to everyone," Jones noted.

    These reported increases in retail crime come despite investment and efforts by the industry to prevent these crimes. The Global Retail Theft Barometer, published by the Centre for Retail Research, estimated U.S. retailers spent $11.799 billion in 2007 on loss prevention efforts.

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