WASHINGTON — A majority of retail loss prevention experts said in a survey that crime has increased across the board in the past four months as consumers struggle with tough economic times, according to the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

This story first appeared in the May 6, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In RILA’s “Crime Trends Survey,” released on Tuesday at the group’s Loss Prevention, Auditing & Safety Conference in Orlando, Fla., 72 percent of respondents said organized retail crime, estimated to cost the industry $30 billion annually, continues to grow, despite concerted efforts to prevent it.

According to the Global Retail Theft Barometer published by the Centre for Retail Research, U.S. retailers spent an estimated $11.8 billion in 2007 on loss prevention efforts.

The survey included 32 of the largest retailers in the U.S., ranging from mass merchants to apparel specialty stores and supermarkets.

Sixty-one percent of retailers surveyed said amateur and “opportunistic” shoplifting had increased, while 55 percent said they had experienced financial fraud in the past four months.

Retail crime has also spread beyond cities and into regions, such as rural areas, that do not typically have high levels of criminal activity, according to the survey.

RILA’s survey comes at a time when three bills aimed at cracking down on organized retail crime and imposing new requirements on online auction sites face consideration in Congress this year.

“These trends confirm that retail criminals are seeking to capitalize on the current economic climate to expand their activities,” said Paul Jones, president of asset protection for RILA. “Their resulting ability to fund other crimes should be a concern to everyone.”