RALEIGH – Law enforcement and retailers are banding together to combat the rise of organized retail crime with the formation of the Carolinas Organized Retail Crime Alliance.
CORCA is aimed at bringing together local law enforcement agencies and the N.C. Retail Merchants Association to better communicate retail theft that is more complex than shoplifting.
At Thursday’s press conference, the alliance leaders stressed the difference between organized retail crime and shoplifting. Organized retail crime usually involves complex schemes and is organized to convert illegally obtained merchandise or cash into financial gain by theft or fraud.
“These are criminals,” Steve Walker, the asset protection director at Walgreens, said. “They are not shoplifters.”
Raleigh Police Department Detective Scott Womack added that often these thefts are connected to drug abuse, street crime and even terrorism.
Organized retail crime is more costly than random shoplifting, and it directly affects consumers’ wallets.
“Organized retail crime costs the retail industry nearly $30 billion annually,” NCRMA President Andy Ellen said. “These loses drive up costs for retailers, which then get passed along to consumers.”
Households will pay an extra $400 a year as retailers’ response to theft, according to Womack.
Walker said price isn’t the only thing that affects consumers, it is also safety. For instance, Walker said baby formula is one of the most common items stolen because of its high price.
“Baby formula may be in the back of a tractor trailer for a couple of months and then is sold,” Walker explained.
Baby formula should be stored at room temperature and should avoid extreme storage temperatures, which he said is unknown when it is sold second hand.
Walker also said retailers have stringent rules—ones that flea markets or online re-sellers don’t often have. Retailers have to throw out items once they are expired, and they can’t mark down items once they go bad.
The association’s goal is to increase communication between retailers and local law enforcement agencies. According to Alan Buck, Bed, Bath and Beyond’s area loss prevention manager, some of these organized retail criminals are stealing from multiple cities or states.
Buck and Det. Shawn Blee with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department joined together to promote a retail theft database, CORCA.org. On the site, 510 retailers and law enforcement agencies post information about retail crimes to prevent future crimes.
“We want the criminals to know law enforcement isn’t just looking at them,” Blee said.
“We are fierce competitors in the retail world, but we are together to combat this,” Walker added.
One of the aspects of the alliance is educating retailers of red flags for organized retail crime, and about the difference between this theft and shoplifting.
“The biggest thing we look at is the quantity of items,” Womack said. “You see shoplifters will steal for their individual gain. A lot of the times we look at the amount of products. The average person isn’t going to need 20 pairs of pants the same size.”
And according to the 2015 National Retail Federation’s study, approximately 34.7 percent of retailers believe their top management doesn’t understand the severity and complexity of these crimes on their business.
In the same survey, they also found 97 percent of retailers have been a victim of ORC activity in the past 12 months.
“Shoplifting is the number one problem for retailers,” Womack said.