NRF: Organized retail crime continues to rise

Washington, D.C. -- The number of retailers that fell victim to organized retail crime groups increased in the past year, according to the National Retail Federation’s Organized Retail Crime Survey.

Of the 125 retail companies surveyed for NRF’s eighth annual survey, a record-setting (96%) said their company has been the victim of organized retail crime in the past year, up from 94.5% last year. Another 87.7% said ORC activity in the United States has grown over the past three years.

"What this tells us is that as retailers and law enforcement become more aware of and more proactive in pursuing organized retail crime gangs, criminals have become more desperate and brazen in their efforts, stopping at nothing to get their hands on large quantities of merchandise,” said NRF VP loss prevention Rich Mellor.

On a more positive note, the survey found that more retailers believe law enforcement is aware of and understands the severity and complexity of the issue (40% this year versus 32.3% in 2011). More than half (54.4%) said top management at their company is aware of the problems associated with organized retail crime.

Increases in violence and cargo theft were both found to pose problems for retailers as well. According to the survey, on average, 52.1% of companies have been victims of cargo theft in the past 12 months, up from 49.6% last year. A significantly higher percent of companies this year said cargo theft occurs mostly en route from the distribution center to the store (68.1% versus 57.4% last year). Four in 10 (43.5%) say these incidents also occur en route from manufacturer to distribution center and 15.9% say they happen at the distribution center.

The survey also indicates a growing trend in the level of violence retailers see when organized criminal gangs are apprehended (15% of incidents versus 13% in 2011). Retailers grappling with these violent acts also report that they believe more ORC offenders are engaged in drug activity. Nearly half (49%) of respondents estimate drugs and drug activity are linked to organized retail crime incidents.

When asked what new trends in organized retail crime they have noticed in the past year, retailers cited familiar issues involving the economy, returned stolen merchandise, gift card fraud, and increases in violent activity upon apprehension. However, new to the list of trends this year were specific references to digital receipt fraud; increased smash and grab incidents; and collusion with street gangs.

“Though retailers continue to make great strides in their fight against organized retail crime, sophisticated criminals with unending opportunities and anonymous outlets to sell their stolen merchandise are proving to be quite challenging for both retailers and law enforcement agencies working to combat this issue,” said NRF senior asset protection advisor Joe LaRocca. “With the types of organized retail crimes changing in severity and scope every day, and cargo theft and violent instances becoming more troubling, retailers are constantly on high alert.”

See related story Top 10 locations for retail criminal activity.

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