Organized retail crime syndicates are increasingly resorting to violence in their quest for ill-gotten gains.

This story first appeared in the June 6, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

According to the ninth annual Organized Retail Crime, or ORC, Survey to be released by the National Retail Federation today, 18.3 percent of in-store apprehensions in retail theft cases led to some level of violence by the suspects, up from 15.2 percent in last year’s study and just 13 percent in 2011.

“There is a growing likelihood of confrontation as thieves become more brazen and more stubborn, staying on their task of stealing the merchandise and getting it to its intended destination,” Rich Mellor, vice president of loss prevention at NRF, told WWD. “They’re not going out and looking for violence, but they are prepared not to be caught and are often in possession of weapons.”

Frequently, he added, thieves work off an itinerary and will head to a series of nearby stores or malls in search of other shoplifting opportunities. “There’s a certain predictability to these sorts of crimes that makes communication and cooperation among retailers, mall operations and law enforcement essential in finding the offenders, bringing them to justice and reducing the risks to employees and store security personnel,” Mellor said.

He also noted that the same mobile tools that are making shopping easier for honest consumers simplify the search for various types of merchandise for those with criminal intent. “They can track which stores have what online or even on their phones,” he said.

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This year’s study, involving senior loss prevention executives from 77 U.S. retail firms, found respondents somewhat less likely to have been victims of organized retail crime, with 93.5 percent indicating they’d been hit by ORC in the past year, lower than the 96 percent who answered affirmatively in 2012. But more than four in five — 81.3 percent — believe that it’s increased in frequency in the past three years, regardless of their own experience in the area.

Loss prevention officials see awareness of ORC growing among law enforcement officials, with 48.1 percent of them indicating they believe police understand the “complexity and severity” of the issue, up from 40 percent last year and an all-time high for the figure.

For the first time, the study looked into the practice of individuals returning stolen merchandise to stores without receipts with the purpose of receiving store credits in the form of gift cards which could in turn be sold to legitimate businesses, both online and off. The share of retailers hit by this tactic was 77.8 percent.

“There are already defrauding processes being put in place, but retailers continue to lose millions of dollars to this enterprise scheme,” Mellor said.

Organized retail crime, including credit and gift card fraud, costs U.S. retailers about $30 billion a year, according to FBI estimates.