Report: Shoplifting Surges in Down Economy

Survey finds retail theft increased for the first time in six years

An annual study that measures shoplifting rates finds that stealing has increased amid a troubled U.S. economy.

At the end of 2008, CSO interviewed University of Florida criminology professor Richard Hollinger about his predictions for how shoplifting rates might be impacted by the recession (Read the interview here). For the past 16 years. Hollinger has conducted the annual National Retail Security Survey. The research polls the vice presidents of security and loss prevention at stores across the country about retail shrinkage and is widely known as the benchmark for measuring shrinkage trends in the United States.

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As predicted by Hollinger in our interview, retail theft, including shoplifting, employee theft, administrative error and vendor fraud, is up (See also: Recession Woes: What People Steal). The survey's preliminary results show a real increase in the rate of retail theft for the first time in six years. Shoplifting rates had been trending downward in the last six years. In fact, in 2007, the lowest rate of retail theft in the 18-year history of the survey was reported at a rate of 1.44 percent of overall retail sales. But in 2008, the rate rose to 1.52 percent of sales, translating into losses of $36.5 billion.

"This year both the dollar loss and rate of loss increased and the evidence shows that the economy and resulting cutbacks in staffing by retailers are creating an opportunistic environment for both individual shoplifters and organized retail criminals," said Hollinger in a statement on the findings. "These are preliminary numbers from 2008 and do not reflect shoplifting and retail theft rates from the first part of 2009, when the recession was considered by many to be at its deepest."

According to Hollinger, employee theft still accounts for the majority of retail theft. However, employee theft actually decreased as a percentage in 2008, while shoplifting increased. The survey only reflects in-store organized retail crime and does not measure crimes such as cargo theft or merchandise stolen in transport, but it does show a steady increase in the number of reported organized retail crime incidents per retailer and an increase in the dollar amount per incident, according to a statement on the report.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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