Do You Know What Profits Are Walking Out Your Doors
Do You Know How Much Is Walking Out Your Doors?
Organized retail crime affects virtually every single retailer in America, impacting everything from the bottom line to occasionally the safety of people in the stores. Criminals have become much more sophisticated.
“It’s a telling case: a few years ago, members of two criminal organizations in California were charged for their role in a large-scale fencing operation to buy and sell over-the-counter health and beauty products—as well as other items like camera film, batteries, and infant formula—that had been stolen from major retail chain stores,” says the FBI. In this case, the merchandise was then passed off to crooked out-of-state wholesale distributors, who just sold it back to unsuspecting retailers. Industry experts say organized retail crimes like these cost the U.S. about $30 billion a year. It used to be that criminals committed bank robberies when they wanted money. Now it is easier to sit at home and use their computers to manufacture fake money, drivers licenses and credit cards, all used to separate retail businesses from profits and products. It takes them less time to produce the fakes; it’s harder to catch them; and the outcome is much more lucrative.
Criminals are now manufacturing stolen credit cards with your actual credit card number and a fictitious name. Add the same fake drivers license to that and they’re in business. For approximately $15 on the internet, crooks can purchase a credit card maker. At the present time, the LA Garment District is at the center of providing the actual card blanks. A genuine working account number is necessary and the number one place forgers get that information is at gas stations, according to Deputy Kristina Winegar of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Retail Theft Division. This is accomplished by the thief placing his own card reader over the authorized gas pump card reader. Deputy Winegar recommends that anytime you’re going to swipe your card, you firmly grab hold of the reader and tug to make sure it is part of the legitimate machine.
Another big problem is the manufacturing of fake driver licenses to back up the fake credit cards. With the high-tech printers out there, criminals can produce some spot-on fakes. However, they’re not perfect and can be detected if you instruct your employees to follow this tip: Have your employees ask to take the customer’s license out of their wallet. Fake licenses will tear easily. If the counterfeit is an older style license with the black strip, it will feel bumpy along the strip. When tapped hard on the counter, it will come apart. When viewing a fake social security card, feel along the columns pictured; they will be raised on a fake card. After hearing a presentation from Deputy Winegar, our own CEO Michele Spears reported that out of five credit card purchases she made around the Victor Valley, not one clerk asked her to take her I.D. out of her wallet.
So, you think you’d be safer using cash? Think again. Criminals are getting better at counterfeiting money also. They are now washing the printing off $5 bills and putting the paper back on a $100 plate. The picture may look right for a $100 bill but the watermark will still be from the $5 bill. It used to be you could use a marking pen to check for fakes but no more. Deputy Winegar suggests investing in a $40 black light. Under the black light you are able to detect the colored strip that corresponds to each denomination of currency. If you’re looking at a $20 bill with the color strip of a $5 you know it’s a fake. You can also use the black light for checking driver licenses. Older ones under the black light will show a bear hologram; newer licenses will have a number code. An even cheaper way to determine fake money is with a pet “urineout” kit for $15 at a pet store, which includes a smaller version blacklight. Check out the free training the sheriff’s department offers.
If all business owners who deal in retail would simply take the training and pass it on to their employees, it would put a big dent in the counterfeit rings’ ability to pass fake money.There’s also a surprising new trend currently hitting home improvement centers. A criminal will bring in a large bag of manure, potting soil, etc. No one really takes notice as it is wheeled in, face up, on a cart. The “perp” immediately heads for the tool section. Once there, the bag is flipped over and opened which reveals that half the content has been emptied and the bag lined with foil (Fig. The secret compartment is then stuffed with $400 worth of tools and then wheeled back to the checkout. The foil lining prevents the scanners from picking up the extra merchandise. If your employee doesn’t lift up the bag off the cart, the weight discrepancy will not be detected.
If you own or manage a Rite Aide, CVS, Stater Bros., or other such retail store, you have the “boosters” to watch out for. “Boosters” usually travel in groups of three or more. They like to steal high-end hair products, cosmetics, and even Tide laundry detergent. They will use reusable shopping bags or ladies handbags, again lined with foil to fool the exit scanners. Some groups use extra layers of clothing to stuff products into the inner layers, or rubber-bands around the body to hold products under clothing, making them hidden from sight.
One or more of the group will be on cell phones making them able to communicate while walking the aisles checking for clerks and vacant areas. They may even distract clerks by asking a lot of questions while the other members are stealing products. These kinds of products find their way to swap meets, unsuspecting retailers, or Mexico through a “fence.” Clerks should be aware of groups that come into the store and then spread out. The key is to look for any carried-in bags with reinforced handles, or people who suddenly seem to gain weight while in the store.
Bigger corporations usually have the resources for training of personnel or even specific theft prevention staff. For those smaller businesses, use these strategies mentioned and you could improve your bottom line. Remember the sheriff’s department does offer free training. Contact Deputy Kristina Winegar at (760) 241-2911 for more information. Her 10 years experience with the department provides her with insight on the latest scams in the Victor Valley.
Another option is to become an accepted member of the Victor Valley Oraganized Retail Crime Assiciation (VVORCA) or Community Oriented Intelligent Network (COIN). Each meet monthly to share loss prevention strategies. Access to to the VVORCA website will give you up-to-the-minute info about retail theft in the area. Retail businesses who would like to be part of the network can
also contact Deputy Winegar.
If you suspect you have had your identity stolen, contact the sheriff’s department immediately. According to David North of Desert Community Bank, the Federal Trade Commission says nearly 9 million Americans are victimized each year, costing consumers $5 billion, and banks and corporations $56 billion. To clean up one’s credit report and associated complications requires an average of $1,173 plus 175 hours. The threat of I.D. theft is real, costing people, banks and businesses real money and real time to fix. Always call the Social Security office and notify them of the theft. they will immediately attach a 7-year flag to your Social Security number. It’s inconvenient, as it will take longer when using credit from then on, but the protection it offers is well worth it, and, most importantly, you can get on with your life.
As business owners you have to stay vigilant. Criminals spend all day figuring new ways to outsmart the public, the police and business owners. You need to constantly educate yourself and employees on the latest scams in the area.
The Chamber will be partnering with the Sheriff’s department and holding a retail theft workshop in August. Please keep a lookout in the e-blasts for more information.
By working together, businesses, the community, and law enforcement can give these hoodlums the boot.