Organized crime in retail puts workplace safety at risk | NEVADA VIEWS

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One of the least talked about but fastest growing threats to workplace and consumer safety is organized retail crime. On the surface, organized retail crime looks like shoplifting and in many cases is legally treated like shoplifting. The difference, however, is that organized retail crime is not just an individual engaging in isolated petty theft, but is a strategic and significant theft orchestrated by sophisticated and coordinated crime syndicates.

And it’s happening every day in every city in Nevada and across the country.

Organized retail crime is not going away, and government inaction is allowing this black market to grow and put Nevada residents at risk. The damage comes in a few different forms.

First, such crime drives up the cost of goods as companies have to raise prices to offset this increasing level of theft. Second, the people involved in this activity are experienced and organized, and they work in stores as teams to distract employees and move goods.

While most retailers discourage employees from directly engaging, employees are likely to unknowingly interact with these individuals. And if an employee asks the wrong question or looks the wrong way, they risk being attacked by someone involved in the theft.

Finally, consumers are at risk when not only stolen goods but counterfeit goods in particular are sold everywhere from flea markets to online marketplaces.

Organized retail crime isn’t unique to Nevada, but there are things our government can and should do to counteract this growing trend.

Last year, lawmakers refused to pass legislation that would have increased transparency in online marketplaces. The pandemic accelerated online commerce, which in turn brought more crime to the internet. According to the National Retail Federation, retailers reported a more than 20 percent increase in multichannel sales fraud between 2020 and 2021, where products were purchased online with a stolen credit card and picked up in-store before the charges were challenged.

These stolen goods then flooded online marketplaces as consumers scoured the web for the best “deals,” while many stores still restricted in-person shopping. By requiring high-volume sellers to disclose their business information, customers can know exactly who they are buying from and law enforcement can investigate reports of stolen, dangerous or illegal products listed online.

In the past two years, state and local law enforcement have conducted several high-profile busts of stolen goods across Nevada. But that only scratches the surface of the problem. The stolen products are kept in storage units and warehouses – and law enforcement even recovered more than $1 million in stolen goods from a nondescript house in a nice Las Vegas neighborhood. Law enforcement is doing what it can with the resources available, but it’s not enough.

Las Vegas is among the top 10 US cities hardest hit by organized retail crime, and the crime syndicates running this scam are the same groups involved in human trafficking, drug and arms trafficking, and terrorism. Our state and local governments must devote more resources to investigating and prosecuting organized retail crime and aggressively seek federal grants.

The missing piece of this puzzle is the government’s response to law enforcement. There are laws on the books, and our local, state, and federal law enforcement officers are conducting the investigations. But until our elected district attorneys and our appointed US attorneys start prosecuting these cases as organized crime and not petty theft, this problem will continue to grow and put our communities at risk.

The masterminds behind organized crime know the laws better than the people who created or enforced them, and they know how to reduce or even drop charges by hiding in the gray areas of our shoplifting laws. Our prosecutors must look beyond shoplifting and petty theft and learn from all the cases that have been used to get to the bottom of organized crime.

Our government’s response to organized retail crime has not been organized or sophisticated, and until our legislators, law enforcement and law enforcement agencies outsmart the criminals, this will continue to pose a growing security risk to consumers shopping in the market and employees on the front lines of the fight stolen goods. The “mob” is alive and well, and the criminals behind organized crime are adapting to new technology faster than our government can keep up.

Bryan Wachter is senior vice president of the Retail Association of Nevada.

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