Deep inside the bowels of Arden Fair mall, a video screen captures two women and two girls emerging from a car in the parking lot and sauntering toward an entrance.
Nothing unusual for a regional mall with 11 million shoppers a year. Until an infrared reader scanning the car's license plate voices a warning: stolen car.
While security officers alert police, the targeted party is busy in the mall stealing clothes to add to a trunkful of pilfered goods.
There are shoplifters plumping their inventory, opportunists who smash and grab from cars, auto thieves and package snatchers. There are also organized criminals, methodically gathering inventory to fence at pawn shops and hawk at flea markets, on street corners or online.
"Naturally, you'll get increases in the holidays because centers are crowded and clerks are distracted, so you tend to get a spike," said Malachy Kavanagh, a spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Worldwide retail losses from crime rose nearly 6 percent from last year to $115 billion — up 8 percent in the United States to $46 billion — according to the Global Retail Theft Barometer released this week by the London-based Centre for Retail Research. The survey found that as recession gripped the world, more middle-class shoppers were willing to pilfer brand-name cosmetics, skin care and designer clothing.
Though the majority of retail- related crime is committed by amateurs working for themselves, a gang of seasoned professionals can swipe $10,000 in goods from different stores in one day, said Joseph LaRocca, senior asset protection adviser for the National Retail Federation.
Organized retail crime, which can cost U.S. retailers as much as $30 billion a year, is expected to rise this year, and California is one of the top four states for such losses, LaRocca said.
These days are particularly busy for organized rings, he said. "They're stocking up for the holidays just like a legitimate retailer."
In a survey of retailers, 92 percent reported organized crime activity this year, an 8 percent increase from 2008, according to the NRF.
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