Massive amounts of items ranging from laundry detergent to ink cartridges to high-end perfume are going missing from D.C.-area retailers.
The culprits? Organized crime rings that target stores to swipe large quantities of items, then resell the stolen goods at a profit, hitting up multiple stores -- sometimes in multiple states -- and making off with thousands of dollars of merchandise in a single day.
Organized retail theft is a growing problem across the region and nation, with nearly 100 percent of merchants surveyed by the National Retail Federation saying such rings have targeted their stores. The NRF's survey named the D.C.-Baltimore region as one of the 10 areas hardest-hit by the crime; police and retailers say that's because the region is densely populated and has easy access to interstates.
"They steal, they get in their cars and they head up the road to the next exit," said George Peyton, vice president of government relations for the Richmond-based Retail Merchants Association.
|Hotspots Source: National Retail Federation|
|The top 10 cities affected by organized retail theft are along major interstates. Those areas are:|
|» Los Angeles|
|» New York City-Northern New Jersey|
|» San Francisco-Oakland|
Just this spring, police in the region have:
> busted two women accused of reselling $20,000 in stolen perfume and cosmetics;
> asked for help finding two men wanted for allegedly stealing $50,000 in ink cartridges from office supply stores between Baltimore and Virginia
> seized $125,000 in stolen merchandise from a Chillum barbershop that was allegedly pawning toothpaste, soap, detergent, electronics and clothing; and
> arrested 16 people suspected of trafficking stolen goods at carry out and discount stores across the District.
Such thieves can make their living as part of the organized crime rings. And so they choose items they can make a profit selling, police say.
"Do you want to steal candy bars, or do you want to steal a thousand-dollar handbag?" said Montgomery County police Detective David Hill, who works in the Financial Crimes Section.
Other popular items to swipe include baby formula, graphic novels, Tide laundry detergent, perfumes, cosmetics, over-the-counter medication and electronics, officials say.
"It's supply and demand," said Sgt. Aubrey Thompson, supervisor of the Organized Retail Crime Unit for Prince George's police. "You wouldn't steal anything that you couldn't sell."
Reports of such crimes are rising because it's increasingly easy and profitable for thieves, said Lisa Labruno, vice president for loss prevention and legal affairs at the Arlington-based Retail Industry Leaders Association.
The combination of flea markets and pawn shops, online marketplaces, and consumers anxious for a deal in the persistently struggling economy means thieves have no trouble making money from their goods, she said.
"It's lucrative, they're anonymous online and they're getting a pretty high value," said Richard Mellor, the NRF's vice president of loss prevention.