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More than just shoplifting.

Gangs of professional shoplifters steal large amounts of merchandise and resell it, costing businesses as much as $30 billion annually, and costing states an estimated $1 billion in lost sales tax revenue. They typically target small household items, such as over-the-counter drugs, baby formula and batteries.

Theft gangs have become increasingly brazen and sophisticated, carrying tools to remove security tags and foil-lined bags to prevent store alarms from sounding. They may use weapons to take carts full of merchandise directly past security guards to a waiting getaway car or van. "Organized retail crime is more serious than simple everyday shoplifting and is a growing problem," says New Jersey Senator John Girgenti.

Alabama, Colorado, Louisiana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont and Washington passed legislation to fight organized retail crime last session. The laws classify types of retail theft and allow more aggressive prosecution.

For example, Alabama expanded first degree property theft to include conspiracy shoplifting and fencing.

Vermont now defines retail theft as using counterfeit sales receipts or UPCs/barcodes or tools to deactivate or remove security tags. Penalties can reach 10 years imprisonment, fines of $5,000 or both.

Washington established three new theft-related crimes--theft with intent to resell, organized retail theft, and retail theft with extenuating circumstances, such as use of theft devices or leaving through an emergency exit.

Similar bills have been introduced in nine states so far in 2007.
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Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Jun 1, 2007
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