Shoplifting is one of the more pedestrian crimes out there. For a lot of people, it’s about the only crime they ever commit. They do it, get caught, and go on about their day. Others do it once or twice, then grow out of whatever stupid phase they were in.
According to DHS officials, though, shoplifting can also be much, much different.
It seems there’s an organized element to it these days.
As Home Depot executives describe it, that New York-area crew is part of a growing threat to Americans across the country: so-called organized retail crime, where groups of criminals steal prized items to sell online or elsewhere.
While this kind of theft has been around for years, retailers say it’s reached unprecedented levels, sparking deadly violence at some stores. And federal authorities now warn it’s become an “absolute threat” to public safety and public health, declaring that violent gangs, dangerous international crime syndicates, and even groups with suspected ties to terrorism are increasingly dabbling in organized retail crime across the United States.
“These criminal networks, they may be full-time drug traffickers, but they see an opportunity to work with a crew that’s already stealing,” said Raul Aguilar, who oversees international organized crime cases for Homeland Security Investigations, the primary investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “And because it’s hundreds of millions of dollars, [the money they make] can easily be diverted for [other] kinds of activities.”
Now, shoplifting isn’t what we cover here. It’s not our jam, by and large.
However, as armed citizens, it’s a good idea to be aware of potential threats we might encounter while we’re out and about.
These networks are apparently big money. Anytime you get that kind of money involved, there’s an element within such organizations that will be willing to kill to protect that money.
If you’re out and about, this is a threat you might find yourself face-to-face with.
And this is insane.
According to the National Retail Federation, shoplifting has increased by 26 percent between 2000 and 2021. At least some of that is due to DAs in many large cities refusing to prosecute shoplifting, of course, but not all of it.
So what’s behind it?
Asked what’s behind the recent spike of organized retail crime, Glenn cited two things in particular: the proliferation of masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, which allowed people to stay “a little bit more anonymous,” as he put it, and the explosion of online marketplaces, where people can be even more anonymous.
According to the National Retail Federation, online sellers like Amazon and eBay have been particularly popular with retail thieves, but criminals are increasingly using peer-to-peer sites such as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, which offer more direct transactions.
Wow. Masks are making criminals more anonymous. Where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah, I remember saying that quite a few times during the height of the pandemic.
However, the truth is that a lot of people still wear masks. Most of them are doing it because they’re concerned about COVID still and believe the masks can help, or they think it’ll help with some other virus. They’re not criminals, though.
But the fact that people still wear them provides a bit of a shield for these shoplifting groups–which may be literal organized crime or could just be three buddies who decide to rip off a retail store–and help hide their identity to some degree.
Yet if we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars for some of these crews, you’d better believe they’re going to be carrying guns and are going to be willing to use them.
I’m not telling you to get involved in stopping shoplifting. I’m telling you that if someone does, it could go sideways and you’d best be prepared to defend yourself if need be.