Retailers are Organized Crime's Latest Victim Credit: Man with cigar image via Shutterstock

More businesses than ever are being victimized by organized retail crime, new research shows.

Of the 125 companies responding to the National Retail Federation's eighth annual Organized Retail Crime Survey, an unprecedented 96 percent reported being the victim of a large-scale robbery in the past year.

Cargo theft continued to pose huge problems. More than 50 percent of the surveyed companies said they had shipments stolen in the past 12 months. Nearly 70 percent of those thefts occurred en route to the store from the distribution center; the others took place during shipments to the distribution center from the manufacturer.

"As retailers and law enforcement become more aware of and more proactive in pursuing organized retail crime gangs, criminals have become more desperate and brazen in their efforts, stopping at nothing to get their hands on large quantities of merchandise," said Rich Mellor, the NRF's vice president of loss prevention. "Selling this stolen merchandise is a growing criminal enterprise."

Mellor added, "This is an issue that involves everyone's cooperation when it comes to protecting retailers' assets, including their valued store associates and customers."

The survey found the most popular methods of organized retail crime included the returning of stolen merchandise, gift card fraud, digital receipt fraud, smash-and-grab jobs and collusion with street gangs.

"Though retailers continue to make great strides in their fight against organized retail crime, sophisticated criminals with unending opportunities and anonymous outlets to sell their stolen merchandise are proving to be quite challenging for both retailers and law enforcement agencies," said Joe LaRocca, NRF senior asset-protection adviser.

The study found almost all of the country's major citieshad a high number of organized retail crimes. The 10 locations where retailers reported the most criminal activity are (in alphabetical order):

  • Atlanta
  • Baltimore/Washington, D.C.
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • Houston
  • Los Angeles/Orange County, Calif.
  • New York City/Northern N.J.
  • Miami
  • Phoenix
  • San Francisco/Oakland

The NRF is calling for a change in the Federal Criminal Code to designate such crimes as federal offenses, with appropriate sentencing guidelines.

The study was based on surveys of senior loss-prevention executives at the 125 retail companies, which included  department/big-box stores, discount stores, drug stores, groceries, restaurants and specialty retailers.