Rise in organized retail theft is costing you

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – They’re fast, they’re sneaky – and their crimes are impacting your wallet.

Organized retail thieves are costing retailers billions of dollars each year, which inevitably ends up costing you.

But it’s more than just shoplifting. Organized retail theft includes:

  • Receiving goods that are believed to be stolen, even if they’re not
  • Shoplifting goods ($200+ value) through an emergency exit door
  • Theft of infant formula more than $100
  • Credit card/gift card fraud
  • Removing or deactivating anti-shoplifting device
  • Switching or crating fake barcodes
  • Conspiring with another to commit theft of retail property from retail establishments with a value exceeding $1,500 with the intent to sell that retail property for monetary or other gain and who takes, or causes, that retail property to be placed in the control of a retail property fence, or other person in exchange for consideration (Class H felony)

A “fence” is any place stolen goods are sold. They can include a website, someone’s house, a car, an app, or even a store.

Durham police detective Debra Smith’s job is to stop retail theft.

“Once I identify you, you’re on my watch list, and it’s downhill for you from there,” Smith said.

She said it’s a crime that happens every single day.

Central Fashion Mart

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t get a phone call or a text message or an email from a loss prevention personnel that tells me ‘Hey, we just got hit by this person, do you know these people?’” Smith explained.

Some stores sell legitimate merchandise alongside stolen goods.

An example is Central Fashion Mart in Durham, one of Smith’s largest busts.

Police raided the shop and ended up finding stolen and counterfeit clothing.

“We ended up doing a search warrant on that business and ended up seizing $50,000 – $60,000 worth of counterfeit product,” Smith said.

They caught a shoplifter who police said sold stolen clothes to 39-year-old Robby Harris Ertimi, the store owner who police then charged with organized retail theft and possession of stolen goods.

Robby Harris Ertimi – charged with 2 counts of organized retail theft, 10 counts of misdemeanor criminal use of counterfeit trademark goods, four counts of felony criminal use of counterfeit trademark goods and one count of possession of stolen property.
Robby Harris Ertimi

CBS North Carolina tried to talk to him about it, but couldn’t track him down.

He was released on probation and his neighbors told reporters he moved out of the country.

His store was shut down and now sits empty.

“It’s a threat to every operator in the grocery store business,” explained Mack McLamb, president of Carlie C’s stores. “Sometimes they’ll work in teams so someone is distracting your staff and so forth, sometimes it’s just a hit and run let’s get as much as we can as fast as we can.”

Razor blades, baby formula, laundry detergent, you name it – criminals are stealing it.

“Twenty years ago, you couldn’t have stolen a box of tide and found a market to sell it, whereas today with the internet and things like that it’s a little easier,” McLamb said.

But here’s why this really matters to you.

“Ultimately the pricing has to change at some point in time to accommodate that which means in the end your customers end up paying for that illegal behavior,” McLamb explained.

“If you have to pay triple what you paid for something three years ago, that’s not because they’re just  upping the price because the want to make more money, they’re trying to make up for their loss,” Smith said.

It’s a crime that’s growing and growing fast.

“We’ve had people from all over North Carolina,” Smith said.

New studies by the National Retail Federation show for the first time, 100 percent of surveyed retailers report being a victim of organized retail theft.

You can read more about the study here.

“We are talking thousands and thousands of dollars. The last number that came out was a couple years ago and it’s $30 billion nationwide,” Smith said.

“This is a society problem and if we have a portion of our society that takes advantages of the rest of society. Everybody pays,” McLamb said “We have to put a help stop that.”

Something Smith said will take harsher punishments since right now most cases end with probation.

“Especially those who do it over and over again,” Smith explained. “They’re going to do it over and over again because there’s not a steep punishment for it. Which is unfortunate.”

There is a bill making its way through North Carolina’s General Assembly now that could bring those steeper punishments by increasing the type of felony retail theft covers.

You can track the bill here.


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