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A brief history of shoplifting rings

A Lululemon in Detroit, Mich., on May 25, 2018. (Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

Retail stores these days are looking a little paranoid. There are cameras and mirrors everywhere, employees counting your items, sensors the size of your head attached to clothing, and security guards making you feel like maybe you should apologize for entering the place. But a recent video of three women scooping up nearly $10,000 worth of clothing from Lululemon might give you a clue as to how all that surveillance can be useful.

Not that cameras actually prevented the women from placing 148 pairs of leggings in their bags and walking right out the door and onto the streets of Fresno, Calif., on Sunday.

“For me, I was just shocked, and I froze,” Christine Brown, a yoga teacher who was at the store, told ABC affiliate KFSN. She says the women calmly walked to the back of the store, stuffed leggings into their bags, and calmly left.

Just after the story broke on Tuesday, the same women allegedly returned to the same store and stole again. Employees took no action, because the store’s policy instructs them not to chase anyone who’s left the store, but the manager of a nearby business managed to wrestle away one of their shopping bags.

Police were astonished by how bold they were, but they also suspect this is part of a string of 15 Lululemon thefts that have occurred this month.

These legging bandits are just the latest in a decades-long history of big-time shoplifting. Perhaps in a nod to the fact that many assume shoplifting is the domain of rebellious teenagers, the industry now uses the term “organized retail crime.” Law enforcement first started noticing this as a serious problem back in the ’90s, as this Washington Post article from 1995 indicates. The National Retail Federation estimates that this kind of theft costs retailers $30 billion a year. Here are some of the biggest and boldest shoplifting rings in recent history:

Florida Family Drugstore
In 2008, police in Lakeland, Fla., busted two women for stealing $4,500 worth of Oil of Olay products from a Publix supermarket. That eventually led to the discovery of a ring of 13 people (all related to each other in some way) that had stolen $100 million worth of drugstore items that they resold on eBay. “We buy overstock, discontinued and shelf pull items by the case or pallet,” said their seller’s profile, according to the Ledger.

Victoria’s Secret Discovered
Pursuing what Michigan police initially thought was a meth-producing operation eventually led them to a well-organized warehouse packed with merchandise from drugstores and $3 million worth of Victoria’s Secret items in 2014. The thieves, including a mother-daughter team, would wear clothing modified with compartments that allowed them to stash their goods and get away with stealing up to $15,000 per person, per day.

Abercrombie and Fitch
In 2017, feds indicted 22 people in connection with a theft ring that reportedly stole around $20 million worth of goods from mall clothing retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret, and Guess. Thieves would use “booster bags,” which are lined with material that blocks security sensors, to steal from stores across the country. The ring had allegedly been operating since 2005 and was reselling the merchandise in stores in Tijuana, Mexico.

Geek Squad Foiled
In 2017, New York investigators took down a ring that was using high-tech methods to steal $12 million worth of electronics from stores like Best Buy, Home Depot, and Staples on Long Island. The thieves wore special vests, had devices that disarmed security alarms, and listened to store security personnel with short-wave radios. After they pulled a job, their boss would sell the goods on eBay and Amazon. Makes you wonder about those great deals you find online.

None of these crimes justify the kind of racial profiling many have reported experiencing in retail stores. People of all races have been pulling off these huge crimes.

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