Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Five-Finger Discount

The most read article (at least by me) in our town's weekly newspaper is the "Police Blotter."  I am always surprised at the reports of brazen shoplifters who regularly loot stores at our local mall.

Early last month, for instance, a woman was observed walking out of Neiman Marcus with three Chanel handbags, two Chanel sweaters and one Chanel necklace without bothering pay to pay the $24,000-plus cost of the items.
     Two days earlier, a man had attempted to open a Neiman charge account with a "fraudulent"  -- which I believe means "stolen" -- credit card.
      One month earlier, three men entered the Neiman
store, "selected 20 pairs of jeans," ran out into a waiting car and fled.
      The day before that, at the Footlocker store, two men absconded with $400 worth of sweat pants.

Most people associate the Salvatore Ferragamo brand with shoes, but if you walk by the store in our mall, you mostly see women's handbags, which are apparently irresistible.
      This fall, a man and woman walked into the store, where the woman asked to try on a pair of boots. While the store clerk went to find the right size, the two loaded four handbags (and a couple belts for good measure) into a Bloomingdales bag and ran; they were caught on the store's surveillance tape, but they got away with $7,150 worth of merchandise.
      The next month, someone walked off with two bags valued at $2,300 from the same store.

There are also inside jobs.  Several weeks ago, a Macy's cashier was stopped at the end of her shift when she walked out of the store with $60 taken from her cash register.  The next day, Nordstrom nabbed an employee who removed $540 from a cash register and put the money in her pocket.


Over years of reading the shoplifting reports, I have learned a few things.

     1) For a long time, shoplifters carried large store bags lined with aluminum foil to prevent those awkward sensors from setting off alarms when non-purchased goods were carried out of stores.

    2) More recently, shoplifters have discovered or obtained the hardware necessary to remove sensor tags.  Last month, three Club Monaco shoppers "tried on" clothes; after they left the store, six sensor tags were found in the changing rooms, but not the $1,000 worth of goods to which the sensors had been attached.
     Another shoplifter -- caught with $2,000 of Bloomingdales merchandise in her bag -- was charged around the same time with "possession of an anti-shoplifting device."

Stores work hard at  LP -- loss prevention.  There are cameras, cash register monitoring programs and undercover LP snoopers dressed like regular shoppers who patrol stores with eyes wide open.  When people are caught stealing, they can expect to be prosecuted.

I don't shoplift myself, and I do not present these facts as news you can use. I just think it is interesting.

Shoplifting Nationally

If you read the retailers' association literature, about $44 billion of goods were removed from stores last year.  The total is greater than all other property loss in the country, albeit in a much greater number of small incidents.

About 40 percent of the "shrinkage" was ascribed to shoplifters; about one-third was theft by store employees, some of whom assisted friends with sham checkout procedures and others who just took money or goods directly; other losses are attributed to poor merchandise control,  vendor fraud and other miscellany.

(I'm not sure whether I believe these figures.  I don't see how any merchant -- let alone a national association of retailers -- could calculate such losses or ascribe definitive percentages to each group of bad actors.)

Meanwhile, Back at the Mall

A lot of the boosting at our local shopping center seems to be from expensive stores -- Saint Laurent, Armani, Saks, Gucci and so on.  One guess is that many of the thieves are looking for brand-name goods that can be fenced for cash.


In addition to shoplifting, there is the matter of theft with the use of false payments.  On one day, a man tried and failed to "buy" goods at two different stores using counterfeit $100 bills. Another buyer was able to buy a $160 jacket at Hollister with cash later found to be fake; store employees also discovered later that two other similarly priced jackets were missing.

In another case, a couple tried to make a purchase with four separate credit cards; all of the charges were denied because the credit cards had been stolen.  The two were arrested for fraud.

A few weeks ago, a California couple attempted to use a fraudulent American Express card and a fraudulent identification to spend $3,120 at Gucci and $4,000 at Louis Vuitton.  They were arrested for fraud and identity theft and then released with a court date.  I'm betting they'll be back in California by then.

In fact, a nontrivial number of shoplifting arrests seem to involve people who already have outstanding warrants in other cities, also for shoplifting.

Why Shoplift?

I found a Reddit post seeking people's explanations for why they shoplifted.  The shoplifters generally seemed to believe that their stealing doesn't hurt actual people, just big corporations.  People can rationalize their way around just about anything, I guess.

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