When the average person thinks about “organized crime”, they usually fall back on the Hollywood stereotype, a/k/a The Sopranos. This frequently includes an overweight man in his fifties, smoking and sweating in his poorly lit office, explaining in a heavy Italian accent that it would be a shame if something happened to your beautiful kids.
Shoplifting, on the other hand, tends to conjure images of a teenager sneaking a comic book into his backpack, or a desperate man stealing a loaf of bread. Sometimes we envision a bored housewife applying the “five finger discount” to a pair of coveted earrings, or a minimum wage worker trying to add a couple of small but unaffordable luxury items to their personal inventory. Designer sunglasses anyone?
Shoplifting and Organized Crime now go hand-in-hand
However, as it turns out, neither of these is an accurate depiction of reality. Current statistics show that shoplifting has swelled and grown into a $30 billion industry with a direct impact on our nation’s economy. According to the Michigan Retailers Association, located in Lansing, shoplifting is no longer something we can dismiss as a “petty” crime. It is now far more organized and unbelievably prevalent. And amazingly, only about 20% of retail thieves are ever prosecuted.
The question is: why? Why has this issue developed into such an uncontrollable phenomena? The answer is simple – money. Professional thieves now enter the stores in teams, usually armed with a list of items they will be “shopping” for, and a plan of attack. Professional shoplifters have all sorts of tricks for getting away with their crimes, like lining their purses with foil so that the anti-theft tags on stolen items don’t set off alarms at the exit doors.
How do shoplifting teams go about their crimes?
So how does it work? Usually, it’s a team effort. One person engages the clerk, distracting them with questions or conversation. The other person (or people) stuff items into their bags at high speed, being careful to keep their face down so that it’s harder to identify them later in the surveillance video footage. Then, as unassumingly as possible, the group melt away through the exits and disappear into waiting cars.
And what do they do with all of this stolen merchandise? After all, a person only needs so many iPhones, teeth whitening strips, and colognes. But that’s the rub – very few of these items are actually kept. Most of what is stolen is resold, usually online, for a discount on the original store price. Because when you paid nothing for it, a discounted sale price is still a major profit margin. Sometimes these items make their way onto the shelves at small, independently owned convenience stores or party stores. One common example of that is baby formula that has been stolen for a major grocery store and then resold to the party store owner for a steep discount.
Current stats show that shoplifting costs each consumer $500 per year
It is all over the U.S. now, and Michigan hasn’t been spared. According to the National Retail Federation, every year the top ten list for cities with the highest incidents of organized retail crime is released. For a few years, namely 2013 and 2014, Detroit made the nation’s Top Ten. But in recent years, Michigan cities have dropped off the top ten in favor of places like Boston, Orlando, and Philadelphia.
In 2001 it was estimated that shoplifting cost retailers approximately $25 million per day. Yes, you read that right! And that was almost 15 years ago. Can you image what it costs them now? And on that note, just image how much cheaper things would be if stores didn’t have to mark up prices to account for the staggering losses they expect to face each day. In Michigan, our criminal law refers to shoplifting as “retail fraud.”
How does Michigan law deal with shoplifting?
In 2013 Michigan signed the Organized Retail Crime statute into law. This allows prosecutors to charge anyone with felony retail fraud if they sold, or intended to sell, any items they stole. Before that, items worth less than $1,000 would result in a misdemeanor retail fraud charge. That meant many people were able to get around doing hard time if they kept each theft under a grand.
As it stands, being charged with any kind of theft or organized crime in Michigan is very serious! You could be faced with years of prison time, hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in fines and court costs, and that’s not counting the restitution you may have to pay! If you or a loved one have been accused of stealing from a store or trying to resell stolen goods, call The Kronzek Firm immediately at 866 766 5245. Our skilled criminal defense attorneys have decades of experience defending Michigan’s citizens. We can help you too.