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‘Tis the Season for Organized Retail Crime

Shannon Wu-Lebron | Senior Director
Blog Post09/07/2018
Business Fraud and Identity Management
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Retail crime rings are eager — and prepared — to attack during the busiest time of year

The holiday shopping season is fast approaching — and lurking in all the merriment will be shoppers looking for a five-finger discount. Only this year, you may have more to worry about than a lone shoplifter sneaking out with an item under their shirt.

Organized Retail Crime (ORC) is heavily on the rise. Full-fledged, retail crime rings are cropping up across the country, costing the industry $30 billion annually. Last year, 9 in 10 retailers reported being a victim of ORC, so if you weren’t one of them, consider yourself lucky.

Key Stats: Organized Retail CrimeKey Stats: Organized Retail Crime

Shoplifting takes on a whole new meaning

Crime rings have grown more elaborate, sophisticated and aggressive. In many cases, one person or gang drives the whole operation. Several or even dozens of people are recruited to hit multiple retailers in an area or even across state lines.

The shoplifters rarely go in alone and instead establish teams. For example, there might be a coordinated group of five that will rob a store blind. Two distract the sales associates, another keeps a lookout for security, as the other two fill their clothing, bags, strollers and so on with stolen items before quickly heading for the door.

How fencers unload stolen goodsHow fencers unload stolen goods

Fencers hit the online jackpot with stolen goods

Once the goods are stolen, the criminals then face the problem of turning those goods into cash. Fencers — criminals who illegally sell stolen goods for cash — still use physical locations, such as flea markets, pawn shops and temporary “pop-up” stores to unload their stolen goods. Some even have their own storefront. However, the Internet has completely changed the game.

Items that once weren’t worth it — such as diapers, detergent or canned foods — can be sold online. Some criminals hock the stolen items on Craigslist, eBay or even at local yard sales. More sophisticated crime syndicates create their own online stores. They sell stolen items for less or offer incentives like free shipping. It’s a great deal for the consumer and the criminal walks away with a 100% profit.

Combating ORC with TLOxp

So how do you avoid becoming a victim — or repeat victim — of organized retail crime? We sat down with TransUnion’s Senior Director of Retail and E-Commerce Markets Shannon Wu-Lebron to find out.

Her first bit of advice is to understand the omni-channel nature of organized retail crime. Just like the legitimate shoppers and honest retailers, organized retail crime criminals are now taking advantage of technology and the digital and mobile channels. Still wondering how to identify fraudulent behaviors in different channels? Wu-Lebron shares her insights below for what to look out for:

Red-flag indicators of organized retail crime


  • Individuals or groups making repeated store visits without purchases
  • Individuals or groups of shoppers with large bags, strollers and other type of storage
  • Seemingly unrelated shoppers communicating with one another in subtle ways


  • Products being sold at significantly below-market prices (sometimes even below a manufacture’s or retailer’s cost)
  • Auctions with short listing duration (less than five days, for example)
  • Sales incentives, such as free shipping

Suspect identities

  • Investigation on the suspect shows criminal histories, large liens and associations with known criminals
  • Social media exposes criminal behavior, such as frivolous spending, gambling or drug use
  • Multiple addresses or places of employments in a short period of time

“Understanding how these types of crime rings operate is the first step,” Wu-Lebron says. “The next is doing your investigative work to uncover the criminals going after your retail operations.” 

That’s where TransUnion’s TLOxp® comes in. 

“With just a little bit of information about suspects — like the phonetic spelling of their names, for example — you can use TLOxp to instantly create 360-degree profiles of suspected ORC participants, including their identity, full criminal histories, relationships or linkages to other criminals, current and previous addresses, places of employments and even social media information that offers deep insight into their behavior and potential motives,” she adds. 

Armed with that information, your loss prevention team can collaborate with law enforcement to bring criminals to justice and prevent future theft. Don’t wait until the holiday shoplifting season is in full swing. Take steps now to prevent losses during the holidays and beyond. 

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