The National Retail Federation is recognizing a couple of individuals, both from law enforcement and within their own ranks, for their contributions in smashing a $100 million organized retail crime ring. These crime fighters are being honored at the NRF Loss Prevention Conference & EXPO in Orlando, Florida.

The two being honored are Detective Ostojic, of the Polk Country Sheriff’s Department, and Ron Averette from the loss prevention department at Publix Supermarkets. In June 2007, the two began comparing notes on a group that was stealing large amounts of merchandise. Subsequently, Detective Ostojic was able to tie in cases at other retailers and Averette (along with Ostojic) presented the pattern of activity to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Florida State Attorney’s Office. This led to a task force being formed under the leadership of Special Agent Telly Sands from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.The result of the task force’s efforts were that 18 people were identified as being involved in the ring and subsequently arrested.

The FBI estimates that organized retail crime costs retailers an estimated $30 billion dollars a year. To date, this is the largest documented case where organized retail crime was identified as being the cause.

These rings use flea markets, Internet auction sites like eBay and Craigslist, rogue e-commerce sites, and even seedy merchants to sell their goods. Some retail loss prevention departments have dedicated personnel to investigate stolen merchandise on auction sites.

In this case, a lot of the stolen merchandise were health and beauty aids. Some of these products have expiration dates, which might lead to health and safety concerns for the end user.

Mark Albright wrote an article about this case in the Saint Petersburg Times, where he mentioned specific brands the group deemed desirable for resale. By doing a search on eBay, I found a wide selection of Gillette razor blades, Prilosec, Crest WhiteStrips, and Oil of Olay available on the site. Please note that I have no way of telling if these items were the result of organized retail crime or obtained legitimately. I do know that large companies generally frown on having their products sold on auction sites and I saw some extremely good prices listed for these products.

According to the article in the Saint Petersburg Times some of the shoplifters (boosters) involved have rap sheets (criminal records) ranging from sex crimes to armed robbery and attempted murder.

A recent survey indicated that retailers are seeing an increase in organized retail crime activity. The cost of this type of crime is eventually added into the cost of the product being stolen, which means we all end up paying for it.

This activity has been known to run smaller businesses bankrupt. Even at larger retail organizations, out of control losses often dictate that operating budgets need to be trimmed. Since payroll is often the largest operating cost in an organization, this leads to reductions in hours and positions to keep a company afloat. Simply stated, activity like this can cost people their jobs.

Legislation has been passed in many states and more is forthcoming to make organized retail crime penalties stiffer.

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