WASHINGTON — Amid rising thefts and shoplifting, the National Retail Federation has joined with the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement division in a six-month pilot program to combat organized retail crime.
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Retailers have battled the problem for years, but the proliferation of criminal gangs that steal large volumes of merchandise from stores and resell it on online auction sites has compelled merchants to seek help from ICE.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates organized criminal activity costs retailers $15 billion to $30 billion annually.
The effort comes as the annual Retail Theft Survey of loss prevention from Jack L. Hayes International showed apprehensions of shoplifters and dishonest retail workers rose 7.3 percent last year. The value of the goods recovered in such cases grew at almost three times the rate of apprehensions — 21.6 percent to a total of $182.9 million.
“Up to one-third of the investigations of organized retail crime today involve some nexus of the international movement of money, people or merchandise,” said Joe LaRocca, senior asset protection adviser at the NRF.
The pilot program launched in July in four ICE field offices: Los Angeles, Houston, Miami and New York, but was announced Thursday.
“ICE has become increasingly involved in investigations that target organized retail crime due to the associated cross-border criminal and financial activities these groups engage in,” said Kumar Kibble, acting director of the office of investigations for ICE.
LaRocca said the field offices in the program were selected based on “the high volume of activity we see in these four cities.”
Examples of the types of crimes being targeted include foreign nationals operating a major retail crime ring in two or three states in the U.S. and shipping money abroad or gangs stealing credit information and using fraudulent information to make purchases and ship merchandise to other countries, LaRocca said.
According to the NRF’s organized retail crime survey released in June, 72 percent of retailers surveyed had discovered criminal organizations exporting stolen goods outside of the U.S. or across state lines. An additional 28 percent of retailers have investigated criminal groups tied to street gangs with international connections.