KITTERY, Maine — With the highly anticipated bargains and discounts of Black Friday, nationwide retailers prepare for long lines, increased hours, and unfortunately, large-scale thefts.

“It’s pretty much a year-round problem for us here in Kittery,” Police Chief Paul Callaghan said Wednesday. “But we could certainly see an increase in thefts now with more people coming to the area to shop.”

And people are drawn to shopping areas such as the Kittery outlets because of what Callaghan referred to as “CRAVED” products. The acronym stands for conceivable, removable, available, valuable, enjoyable and disposable — all essential components thieves commonly look for in advance of committing large-scale thefts.

“Disposable is probably the most important factor,” Callaghan said. “People are stealing goods they know they’ll be able to resell.”

The two most common targets for thieves at the Kittery outlets are clothing and various electronics, Callaghan said. He also said the outlets typically have two different types of thieves: casual opportunists and organized groups. While casual opportunists may steal an item or two at random, organized groups are much more advanced and harmful to retailers.

“These organized groups steal in excess by working together and distracting store employees,” Callaghan said. “They’ll line shopping bags with materials to eliminate sensors — and in other cases they’ll bring in tools to clip sensors off items.”

According to the FBI, organized retail theft can generally be described as “professional burglars, boosters, cons, thieves, fences and resellers conspiring to steal and sell retail merchandise obtained from retail establishments by theft or deception.”

“Boosters” — the front line thieves who intend to resell stolen goods — generally coordinate with “fences” who may sell the items outright at flea markets, convenience stores, or online — or repackage them for sale to higher level fences.

And because many of these organized groups come from outside the area to steal and then subsequently flee, security cameras are essentially “a nondeterrent” in many cases, Callaghan said.

“The Kittery outlets aren’t in an enclosed area,” he said, contrasting the local stores to the expansive, indoor Fox Run Mall in Newington, N.H. “People can steal here and then walk outside right away and be at their vehicle. They can make multiple trips.”

And it doesn’t take a great deal of hindsight to see these out-of-state, organized groups at work committing thefts in Kittery. Three individuals from New York were arrested by Kittery police last Friday for allegedly stealing approximately $8,000 worth of clothing from area stores.

Before that, on Nov. 4, Kittery police arrested four Massachusetts women accused of stealing $4,000 worth of merchandise. And in late April three Connecticut women were arrested by police and charged with stealing in excess of $8,500 worth of valuables from the Kittery outlets.

“Shoplifting is something that will always be an issue,” Callaghan said. “It’s an underreported crime and it’s difficult for us because we have a lot of high-end products that people want.”

And while retail theft may always be an issue, it is also a rising issue. According to the National Retail Federation, a record 96 percent of retailers say they were victims of organized retail crime last year. Nearly every retailer in the country is affected by organized retail crime, according to an NRF survey.

According to the FBI, industry experts say organized retail crimes cost the U.S. about $30 billion a year — an estimate that also includes other crimes such as credit card fraud, gift card fraud, and price tag switching.

“It’s an additional concern because businesses lose profits, their ability to employ people, and also to remain open,” Callaghan said. “This is certainly a concern for us.”

(c)2012 the Foster’s Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.)
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