By  on September 2, 2009

Insult, meet injury.

As if the recession weren’t bad enough, the weakened economy has led to a surge in retail theft by shoplifters, rogue employees and organized criminal enterprises. And their desperation in the downturn has caused these thieves to go for bigger hauls, which they often end up selling at flea markets or online, according to loss prevention consulting firm Jack L. Hayes International.

The company’s annual Retail Theft Survey showed that apprehensions of shoplifters and dishonest retail employees rose by 7.3 percent in 2008. The shift translated to 904,226 total apprehensions at the 22 retailers that participated in the review.

More markedly, the value of merchandise recovered by retailers in such cases rose at nearly three times the rate of apprehensions — 21.6 percent to a total of $182.9 million — and the average case value rose 13.4 percent to $202.38.

“We expected this,” said Mark Doyle, president of Jack L. Hayes International, which has conducted the survey for 21 years. Doyle said downturns typically produce growth in retail theft, but that the overall amount was slightly higher than expected.

The sample set measured more than 19,000 stores with more than $570 billion in revenues, collecting data on both shoplifters and dishonest employees. Shoplifter apprehensions at the retailers were up 7.7 percent in 2008, to 832,106, while the value of merchandise taken by shoplifters gained 30.2 percent to more than $113 million.

“They’re stealing more, so when you catch them, they have more on them,” Doyle told WWD. The rise in the overall value of recovered goods might also be attributed to loss prevention staffs focusing on larger cases, he added.

The other component of the study was employee theft. Apprehensions of workers increased 3 percent to 72,120, or about one in every 30. The value of goods recovered from employees climbed 9.9 percent to $69.8 million.

Employees generally stole more than average shoplifters by a wide margin, stealing an average of $969.14 per case versus $135.81 in the average shoplifting case.

The Hayes poll joins a mounting body of evidence that suggests consumer demand for low-cost goods as well as reductions in retail staff created a growth market for shoplifting and employee theft in 2008 and the early months of 2009.

In June, preliminary results from the National Retail Security Survey, a joint effort of the University of Florida and the National Retail Federation, showed that, in 2008, retailers surveyed lost $36.5 billion to theft, or 1.5 percent of overall sales. In 2007, the 95 retailers in the study lost $34.8 billion, or 1.4 percent of sales.

Employee theft and shoplifting accounted for $28.6 billion of the 2008 losses, according to the University of Florida study.

The trend doesn’t appear to have abated this calendar year.

A survey released in May by the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which measured the first four months of 2009, found 61 percent of retailers had seen an increase in amateur and opportunistic shoplifting, while 72 percent had seen an increase in organized retail crime.

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