Entries in Theft (13)


Inside Organized Retail Crime Raids

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- We used to call it shoplifting, but these days the foot soldiers of retail crime rings are known as boosters. Police even have an acronym for these operations: ORC, which stands for Organized Retail Crime.

"It's just like a Fortune 500 company," said Sergeant Eric Lee of the Gardena Police Department in Gardena, Calif. "All of this is just organized."

Police say big retail stores, from Walgreens to J.C. Penny, are getting hit by highly sophisticated shoplifting networks that steal and resell everything from underwear to razors to milk. According to the National Retail Federation, theft can amount to annual losses as high as a $37 billion for retail businesses.

"Every store in every city has to go through this," Lee said. "They wait until no one's paying attention and they walk out."

Tide detergent is currently a hot target because it is compact, expensive and easy to sell on the streets for profit, police said. The street name: "liquid gold."

"Sometimes we get rings that just do alcohol," Lee said. "And then we get some that do just meat and seafood."

Investigators say boosters move the loot for cents on the dollar to fencing operations -- the black market resellers of the stolen goods -- which sell the stolen merchandise in plain sight in stores. Boosters, fencers, Mr. Bigs, all of those involved in these shoplifting operations can potentially make millions a year from boosting and re-selling stolen goods.

And Mike Swett is on the case. A former Riverside County sheriff's deputy in Los Angeles, Swett was badly injured in a car wreck and now works as a full-time private investigator on the ORC beat who has worked with Target, Marshalls and T.J. Maxx. Stores hire him to do his own undercover police work, catching thieves before involving local law enforcement.

"Kind of like working a narcotics case, it's like you've got low-level, mid-level and then top dog," Swett said. "We like to go after the top dog and the only way to get to the top dog is mid-level first."

Swett said he has been casing two joints in L.A. for months, both alleged to be mid-level fencing operations. Nightline was invited to ride along with him when he sent undercover agents in for a final reconnaissance mission.

At some stores and shopping malls, clerks do little to stop shoplifters and often let them run, which has contributed to the growing fencing operations.

"[The stores] don't want their employees to get injured," Swett said. "So oftentimes they will call the police, but by the time we get there they are already in their car and they are gone."

This leaves professional investigators like Swett to put the pieces together and bust open the gangs to lead over-stretched police departments to the prey.

When raid day arrived, a motorcade of squad cars departed from the Gardena, Calif., police department and pulled up to one fencing operation. Swett said the merchandise being sold was boosted goods.

"There is Victoria's Secret, expensive Victoria's Secret, the gift sets," he said, pointing down a line of tables. "J.C. Penny, Miramax, its real stuff not counterfeit."

He spotted a bottle of Katy Perry brand perfume, which usually retails for around $90 but one seller had it priced at $59.

"She probably paid $10 for it," Swett said.

Inspectors from various stores swarmed the place and all of the merchandise was photographed. Police handcuffed the accused and it was on to the next target.

In another jurisdiction halfway across the country, investigators in northern Indiana have a secret warehouse that is packed with millions of dollars worth of stolen merchandise -- one of many across the United States.

Its location is kept secret because busting in would be a booster's dream, a one-stop shop. This is also the headquarters for Walgreens' Organized Retail Crime Division run by director Jerry Biggs. Biggs said more than 40 boosters can feed one fencing operation. One recent ring they busted was making $17 million a year.

"This stuff here," Biggs said, gesturing to the thousands upon thousands of bottles of lotion, baby formula and medical supplies. "Most of it was taken within just weeks. Probably took us about six months to work the case, following them to four different states continuously."

Pins in a map stuck to the wall mark shoplifting hot spots. Flow charts connect members of various gangs.

Biggs' library of surveillance tapes is astounding. One tape showed a man wearing a suit in a Texas Walgreens swiping a tray of diabetic test strips -- a total value of $1,000.

Two days later, Biggs said that man was stopped by traffic cops with $4,000 worth of medicine in the trunk of his car. He was charged with possession of controlled drugs and stolen property.

Another Biggs video showed two women who seemed to have the keys to display cases in another Walgreens, which they unlocked and emptied, making off with the merchandise. Police are still looking to question them.

Biggs and his team are the James Bonds of retail crime, armed with tracking devices, radios and hidden cameras, including visor cams that Biggs said can monitor what is going on in a 360-degree radius. A booster might think he is out the door and home free, but not always.

"With today's technology, I can have your face pretty much throughout the country in less than 10 minutes," Biggs said.

Back in Los Angeles, the people at the fencing operation were arrested for possession of stolen property. Formal charges still pending their court date.

Another operation completed, but for Swett, the work goes on.

"Could be nothing, could be something, but that's a lot of stuff" he said, as he starts to videotape a suspicious van being loaded in a store parking lot during one of his recent stake-outs.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Debit Card Thieves Ship Shopping Spree to Victims

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(ANCHORAGE, Alaska) -- When Chris and Susie Linford of Anchorage, Alaska, found out that their bank account was drained of nearly $5,000 without their knowledge, they were stunned.

“We had our debit card on us the whole time,” said Mrs. Linford, who believes the thief may have stolen their information remotely. Fortunately for the couple, their credit union, Credit Union One, quickly detected the fraudulent purchases and refunded their money. But the surprises didn’t end there.

In the weeks after the theft, the Linfords began receiving an odd assortment of Christmas gifts at their front door -- a veritable hodge-podge version of the 12 days of Christmas that directly corresponded with the thieves’ $5,000 shopping spree. Among other things the Linfords received:

  • A $900 signed Dale Earnhardt Jr. poster
  • A Chipper Jones autographed baseball bat
  • Six metal plant stands
  • A case of leather Samsung Galaxy Note covers
  • Four Northface jackets
  • A series of linen photo albums
  • Two women’s coats
  • One radar gun
  • And a letter from the fruit of the month club regretting to inform them that they do not deliver to Alaska

Mrs. Linford speculates that the thieves failed to change the shipping address when using the stolen information to order items online, either that or they planned to come by the house and pick up the goods before the Linfords noticed. An idea that Mrs. Linford says, would have been especially foolish: “I work from home and we have a very large dog, bad plan.”

The barrage of gifts slowed down after the Christmas season but has picked up again recently as vendors continue to send items that were on back-order when the crooks purchased them. Including Mrs. Linford’s personal favorite so far: “yesterday our little hacker sent us some virus protection software.”

Because of the nature of the crime, the Linfords were told that they do not have to return the items to the merchants, but that hasn’t stopped Mrs. Linford, who has been contacting each seller individually to return the ill-gotten goods. Otherwise the seller would have to pay out of pocket.

“We were told you’re welcome to keep it, but I thought no that’s not right,” Linford told ABC News.

With both the money and the items returned to their rightful owners, the case seems to have been put right. But as Linford points out there are still a few people out there suffering because of it. “I’m sure the thieves family’s are a little disappointed, they didn’t get their Christmas gifts.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Package Theft Rising as More Order Online

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Wondering why that gift you ordered online a week ago hasn't arrived yet?

Well, it may not be the retailer's fault or the result of slow shipping.  What's been occurring more often are thieves swiping packages from doorsteps.

Package thefts are being reported all around the nation, and while it's not quite reached the epidemic stage, it's still upsetting to those who have spent good money to make the holidays a little brighter for loved ones -- or themselves for that matter.

Some victims know they have been ripped off when they see a notification from the shipper that a package has been left, minus the box.  But that's not always the case, and with Christmas on Tuesday, there's little that can be done now to replace what's been swiped.

Often, people don't notify the police when they've been robbed of packages so there's no way to know the precise extent of the problem.

While it's probably too late to do anything about it this year, it's recommended that packages be sent to places of work or a residence where they know someone is home.  Signing up for delivery confirmation is another option.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Thieves Across Country Stealing SUV Seats

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Thieves across the country are in many cases not targeting expensive SUVs parked in driveways and parking lots.  Instead, they are stealing the third row of seats from the vehicles for up to a $1,000 profit.

Ivan Barahona, an SUV owner, parked his vehicle in his Dallas driveway, and made sure nothing valuable was inside and locked it up.  But a trio still broke into the back, and within seconds, removed part of the seats.  Within 40 seconds, the entire back row in the vehicle was gone.

“It feels really bad because people work really hard for what they have,” Barahona said.

Police say so-called “third seat theft” is on the rise, particularly in Texas and California.

Replacement seats are in demand by SUV owners whose row of seats has been damaged or worn out.  Detectives say the crooks can get about $1,000 for the seats on sites like Craigslist or in a salvage yard -- a sizable payoff for 40 seconds of work.

Police often recover the stolen seats but have no way of reuniting them with their rightful owner, which is why Los Angeles police are encouraging owners to engrave their SUV’s vehicle identification number onto the bottom of those seats.

“It’s something that’s very simple.  With a little bit of time and effort people can protect themselves,” Det. Mike Ventura with the Los Angeles Police Department said.

Even something as inexpensive as a bike lock will slow crooks down.  Locking up seats is a good investment, because replacing a stolen third seat at the dealership can cost up to $4,000.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Mom, Son Charged With $2M Toy Thefts

Broward County Police(NEW YORK) -- A 46-year-old Florida man and his 70-year-old mother have been arrested for allegedly stealing more than $2 million worth of toys from 30 Toys R’ Us stores in Florida.

Michael and Margaret Pollara were arrested on Aug. 9 for grand theft and dealing in stolen property. According to investigators, the pair was involved a scheme called “box stuffing,” when a less-expensive item is removed from a box and replaced with a larger-ticket item.  The two would then allegedly place the items on eBay for sale.

Investigators were able to track items purchased by the Pollaras using a Loyalty/Reward card that showed sales at 139 different Toys R’ Us stores in 27 states.  The total paid for the 175 purchases made using the card was $6,738. According to the Broward Sheriff’s office, the two stole more than $2 million in toys.

The two are in jail facing charges of obtaining property over $50,000 by fraud, grand theft and criminal attempt to solicit. Attempts to reach their lawyer for comment weren’t immediately successful.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Thieves Follow FedEx, Snatch Packages

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(PORTLAND, Ore.) -- A Portland, Oregon-area man was stunned after thieves drove up to his front door, snatched several packages, and dashed away. The incident happened all in a matter of minutes and it was all caught on camera.

ABC Affiliate KATU caught up with the victim, who identified himself as “Mark” because he didn’t want to share his true name. Mark said he was tipped off that the FedEx man was walking up his driveway last Friday when his two dogs started barking.  He tried calming the dogs, allowing the delivery man time to leave. A few minutes later when Mark went outside, the packages were gone.

What did remain was a trail of dog waste in the shape of footprints. Confused, Mark consulted his home surveillance video and found that less than two minutes after the FedEx delivery man left, a car pulled up his driveway. The grainy video shows a white woman with long blond hair jumping out of the passenger side of a decade-old Chrysler then snatching the packages and driving off.

The whole incident took less than 15 seconds.

“It was really well planned,” he told KATU.  “Just amazed at how brazen this person was, to come down the driveway and snatch it like that.”

Lt. Steve Alexander, public information office for the Multnomah Co. Sheriff’s Office, says the theft is an isolated incident and they are still reviewing the surveillance tape for clues.

“Hopefully by putting this video out there the public will know who they are,” said Alexander.  ”It’s pretty brazen to drive right up and up and steal a package.”

When reached by phone, a FedEx spokeswoman expressed regret about the stolen packages.

“Porch pirating” reaches epidemic proportions around the holiday season.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Thousands of Internal Bank Thefts Go Unprosecuted Each Year

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When $20,000 disappeared from a small community bank near Birmingham, Ala., administrators knew they didn't have to look far for a suspect.  It was an inside job.  It almost always is.

Bank employees led investigators to a suspect, a woman identified only as "Sally," who had recently thrown a wedding that cost more than her salary, was married to a drug dealer who had many run-ins with the law, and had bad credit and a criminal history, according to Alton Sizemore Jr., the former FBI agent who investigated the case.

She even failed a polygraph "with flying colors," he said.

Sally was emboldened by the lack of bank controls and confident that her theft was too insignificant to keep the feds around for long.

"She was not the least bit intimidated by two Feds and proved the point by stealing another $20,000 the second day we were there," Sizemore said.

Investigators could not gather enough evidence for a sum they considered small, so within days, the FBI gave up.

The case is typical for how law enforcement agencies deal with internal bank theft, showing little interest in cases involving less than $100,000.  The crimes cost banks millions of dollars a year in losses, often paid for by banks and their consumers.

"Committing fraud within a bank is much safer than robbing a bank. You don't have to worry about getting shot, you don't have a gun, and you're not going to be thrown in jail for commission of a crime with a weapon," Sizemore said.

Banks report any incidences of suspected fraud to FinCEN, the government-run Financial Crime Enforcement Network.  Each year from 2001 to 2010, an average of 6,460 reports of suspected fraud are sent from banks to FinCEN.

In 2011, there were more than 5,500 reports of suspected embezzlement at banks.  Of those cases, approximately 580 were investigated, and of those investigations, 429 cases -- or 8 percent -- ended with convictions, according to FBI data.

In other words, employees had a 92 percent chance of robbing a bank and getting away with it that year.

"I can tell you everyday there are (reports) coming in with a low dollar range that never get looked at, never get off the ground," said Keith Slotter, an FBI Special Agent in Charge of the San Diego Division.  "If you have a fraud in there for $5,000 and with a quick check, you see the main suspect is not suspected of doing anything else, has no record, you don't do it."

In a survey by financial services research and consulting firm Aite Group last year, on average banks said internal fraud represents 4 percent of their total fraud losses.  Conservative estimates for check, debit, and credit card fraud for U.S. institutions place that figure over $6 to $8 billion, meaning internal fraud is likely between $240 million and $300 million per year.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Tips for Preventing Credit Card Theft

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) – ‘Tis the season to swipe the credit card -- and to be on alert. As shoppers rush home with their treasures, all purchased with just one swipe of a piece of plastic, it comes with one great risk: credit card fraud.

About eight million American were victims of fraud this past year, and almost half of those reports were linked to stolen card information.

“Right now criminal hackers are buying and selling our credit card information on the Internet,” said Robert Siciliano, an identity theft expert and consultant for McAfee, purveyor of antivirus software. “It’s very important that the consumers ultimately check their own statements frequently, especially during the holiday season and refute unauthorized charges to protect themselves.”

But it’s not just credit and debit cards that put consumers at risk. Siciliano said gift cards are often a popular target for thieves to commit common fraud.

“When [thieves] see a gift card on a display...they can skim the information off the back of the magnetic strip,” he said. “Once they do that they have enough information about that card that they can go ahead place an order over the Internet or even over the phone.”

Sicilano offered these tips for keeping your purchases on your plastic safe this holiday season:

  1. Be careful where you buy gift cards
  2. Check your credit card statements regularly
  3. It’s safer to use credit cards online
  4. Look for ‘Https’ websites when shopping online

Tune into Nightline Wednesday at 11:35 p.m. ET to watch ABC’s Cecilia Vega’s report from inside Visa’s security center -- a never-before-seen look at the precautions the company uses to keep consumer transaction information safe.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Supermarket Customers Hit By Debit Card-Skimming Thieves

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MODESTO, Calif.) -- Thieves who inserted data-skimming devices into card readers at Lucky's supermarket self-checkout counters ripped off as many as 500 of the California chain's customers, officials said.

Lucky's, owned by Save Market Supermarkets, said in a statement that the company has removed tampered credit/debit card readers from 24 stores. The readers have been sent to the Secret Service, which is investigating the scam.

Data-skimming devices inserted into the readers allowed the crooks to steal information like the shoppers' PIN numbers, expiration dates and security codes from the cards wirelessly. Lucky realized something was up, according to its statement, when during a regular review it discovered a reader that "looked suspicious."

Lucky said in its statement that its customer-support team has been fielding up to 2,000 calls a day. It said all the readers that were tampered with were replaced by Nov. 23. The company doesn't know how much money was taken illicitly because of the tampering.

To protect themselves against skimmers, shoppers should consider using credit rather than debit cards, says identity theft expert John Sileo, author of "Stolen Lives, Identity Theft Prevention Made Simple."

"It's much more attractive to a thief to get a debit card, and it's much harder on a victim," Sileo says.

The reason: with a debit card, consumers often have only a couple of days to notify the bank that they were victims of fraud, whereas credit-card companies generally allow 60 to 90 days and do the investigation themselves.

Sileo recommends checking out the reader you are about to use and making sure it looks just like the one in the other aisles--with nothing loose, sticking out and with no sign of a camera attached.

He also suggests setting up debit and credit card alerts via text message or email. "If you're home watching the football game and you just spent $5 in Starbucks, you know you've got a problem," he said.

Self-checkout makes fraud easier, he said. "There's nobody watching. It does make it easier to slip on a skimmer or put in a camera that records people's PIN numbers," he said. But he doesn't think shoppers need to stop using self-checkout. They just need to be vigilant.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gold Thefts Rise as Prices Shoot Up ANGELES) -- The stock market was down four percent last week, but gold continues to soar.

The precious metal is now so valuable that police have issued a warning to anyone wearing gold. LAPD Commander Andy Smith says with the price of gold sky rocketing, criminals are trying to profit too, even if it means snatching it right off of people's necks.

"I think they see the dollar sign and I think they are going for it and willing to take a lot more of a chance than they use to," Smith says.

The price of gold is currently at $1,800 per ounce.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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