by: Robin Taylor Updated:PITTSBURGH —
It looks like shoplifting, but it's a whole lot more. Police say organized retail theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country. Target 11 Consumer Investigator Robin Taylor talked to local police and discovered stores aren't the only ones paying a price.
The police chief in Center Township told me that they just busted a ring of thieves who were stealing DVD's and then reselling them.
The ringleader is being prosecuted under a new state law that recognizes this type of crime as more than just shoplifting.
"We had a series of retail thefts that occurred at our Target store," said Barry Kramer, the Center Township police chief.
He showed us surveillance shots of Curtis Evans. Investigators say Evans was the boss who ordered his cohorts to steal DVD's and then resell them at the F.Y.E. store in the Beaver Valley Mall.
"The retail value of the 1,200 DVD's that were stolen was over $25,000," said Kramer.
Organized retail crime is a $12 billion a year problem. Thieves are stealing some of the most popular brands on the market, Tide, Tylenol, even Crest White Strips.
A new report found that 96 percent of stores nationwide say they've been a victim of organized retail theft.
I paid $12 for a bottle of Tide, but on the street it could sell for as little as a dollar. That's a huge loss for retailers, and that cost is ultimately passed along to consumers in higher prices.
"These criminal enterprises and just retail theft in general certainly has a impact on what we pay at the store," said Kramer.
Last fall, Ross Township Police showed us this van filled with 50,000 worth of stolen toys.
They arrested several people, and say their crime spree stretched from New York to Pennsylvania, hitting 91 stores along the way.
"It appears the goal was to take these items to flea markets, and utilize eBay," said Sgt. Benjamin Dripps of the Ross Township police department.
Many thieves are returning stolen merchandise for cash or using stolen gift cards, leading retailers to take measures to protect their merchandise.
Shoppers are now finding some of their cosmetics, infant formula and razors under lock and key, or wrapped with anti-theft devices, but so far little has worked to slow this multi-billion dollar crime wave.
Under the new state law, the penalties are much stiffer for criminal enterprises caught stealing merchandise, than they are for ordinary shoplifters.