Organised crime gangs run new shoplifting sprees in Qld
Shoplifting has taken on a sinister, modern-age twist, with thieves exploiting home delivery services to make their money.
News Corp can reveal a rise in organised fraud on home deliveries - where crooks claim not to have received the items, keep the goods and demand refunds - as well as manipulation of supermarket self checkout systems.
Modern day Fagan-style gangs have been leading the crime sprees across the country this year stealing-to-order everything from luxury goods to essential items.
Top of the shoplifting list is baby formula, food, alcohol including Vodka and Bourbon, cosmetics, clothes and sunglasses.
In Queensland crime statistics show shoplifting was at a 10-year high in January with 3000 police reported incidents recorded for just that month.
The number of incidents in Queensland dropped to less than half of that in the month of April during the lockdown (1344 incidents) but started to rise again heading into Christmas.
During the past year there were 22,955 reported shop stealing incidents with hot spots of crime in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Morton Bay.
Retail stealing is returning to pre-pandemic levels and there has been an escalation in organised retail crime and different forms of retail-related crime, according to information published by the National Retail Association (NRA).
The NRA has warned distractions in stores, such as panic buying have also greatly assisted organised retail crime group with gangs, targeting smaller shops and creating diversions with a number of gang members while others steal goods.
"The strong demand for essential items during this time also creates further opportunities for organised retail crime groups to be given 'shopping lists', and to target the stores that stock those products, and sell them on the black market or overseas," according to the NRA.
Retailers in Australian and New Zealand lose more than $2 billion a year to shoplifting according to the last retail crime survey from the Profit Protection Future Forum.
The NRA data shows the average dollar amount per stealing incident stolen has risen.
It comes amid a concerning rise in online platforms with shoplifting chat rooms giving tips on techniques for shoplifting, which stores are easiest to hit, store difficulty guides for security tags, and some new apps boasting live streaming of stores and security guards.
Shoplifting has become such a sensitive subject in the wake of the pandemic and recovering retail stores, big stores such as David Jones did not respond to requests for comment and the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) the retail industry's peak body, declined to comment.
But NSW Detective Chief Inspector Stuart Bell who ran an anti-shoplifting operation in Sydney in December has said it has been a difficult year for retailers and their employees.
"Retail theft continues to cost the industry billions of dollars each year, which is why we remain committed to cracking down on those who attempt to take goods without paying for them," he said.
Statistics gathered from police in each state show at the beginning of the year before COVID-19 struck, shoplifting crimes were higher than ever in Queensland.
During the pandemic, shoplifting took a different turn with experts saying some physical theft had been replaced with fraud. In some cases people were ordering products to be delivered, claiming they didn't arrive, keeping the product and seeking a refund.
Mark Gentle, an industry expert and member of the not-for-profit organisation which focuses on retail loss prevention, Profit Protection Future Forum, said there has been an escalation in organised retail theft taking advantage of the rise in home deliveries.
Mr Gentle also said there has been increase in online store related identity theft, fraudulent claims of deliveries being lost, and customers claiming refunds as well as keeping the goods.
Mr Gentle, who also runs retail technology company, Checkpoint Systems, said there is some evidence the number of those cases has quadrupled.
He said most of it is organised crime, however some of it is opportunistic with shoppers seeing the chance to get a product without paying for it.
"These problems are not new, they have just escalated this year and it is a national problem," he said.
Mr Gentle said baby formula is still top of the hit list for shop lifters but not so easy to move offshore for resale.
However, Mr Gentle said it has never been easier to resell other items locally.
"They can be stolen and within minutes be posted for sale on sites such as eBay, Gumtree, Facebook," he said.
The NRA has been pushing for a dedicated retail crime task force.
"Retail crime is not simply one-off shoplifting of small ticket items. The magnitude of this case involving a highly organised retail crime syndicate systematically shoplifting from Australian businesses and exporting products and profits offshore to the tune of $100,000 is exactly why a retail crime task-force is needed," the NRA has warned.
NEW THIEVES AT SELF SERVE CHECK-OUTS
SELF service checkout terminals have bred a new type of thief who wouldn't normally shop lift.
Dubbed SWIPERS, they are more likely to steal by switching labels, swiping cheaper goods for more expensive ones such as carrots for avocados, and replacing items in the weighing area for other items.
In some instances, SWIPERS (Seemingly Well Intentioned Patrons Engaging in Routine Shoplifting) have discovered some check-outs don't sound an alarm if shoppers scan everything and walk out without paying.
This type of stealing has shoplifters "justifying" their behaviour, according to industry experts. Many frustrated with the process of self-check-outs and any glitches, however minor, use that as "reasons" to underpay - or not pay at all.
The Australia and New Zealand Retail Crime Survey released last year said there appears to be a normalisation of this type of behaviour and experts like Mark Gentle from CheckPoint retail systems said nothing has changed since.
The retail crime survey said retailers are using new technologies such as bird's eye view video analytics, artificial intelligence to distinguish between products rather than relying on weight, and cameras filming customers at the checkout and play the footage back to them in real time. It gives the impression that they are being watched and recorded. This is likely to deter some opportunistic would-be thieves but is unlikely to have any impact on more organised criminals who use the self-service area to exit the store.
Supermarkets are also using specially coded tags in self-checkout aisles to signal staff when "high risk" theft products like baby formula are close to the check-outs.
The survey said research shows customers using self checkout machines to steal often do not perceive it as real theft, since they are paying something for their purchases. Many do not feel as guilty stealing from a machine as they would from a human.
Originally published as Organised crime gangs run new shoplifting sprees in Qld