Shoplifters try to make the holidays their open season

November 25, 2005|by PEPPER BALLARD

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The holiday shopping season means longer lines and full parking lots to some, but to police, a rush of shoppers means just one thing - more shoplifters.

Recently, the Washington County Sheriff's Department made several arrests in connection with alleged shoplifting at Valley Mall, Prime Outlets at Hagerstown and Crosspoint Shopping Center, which sits on Cole Road near the mall.

"With the holiday season coming, retail theft is just going to get worse," Sheriff's Department Investigator Greg Alton said.

Alton said making shoplifting arrests is sometimes more difficult because some stores don't want to prosecute.

"They don't want to get involved from what they see as negative publicity," he said.

But Alton said that attitude only wreaks havoc on the store's stock.

Thieves, he said, talk among themselves.

"They know what stores don't put a lot of effort into asset protection or loss prevention," he said. "They know what stores to hit."


Retailers, he said, often enable shoplifters in embarrassing ways.

"The surveillance equipment: If they have it in the store, make sure it's working properly," he said. Often, Alton said, he runs into retailers who say, "'We forgot to change the tape'" or "'We forgot to turn it on.'"

Training is also important: Watching out for suspicious activity - and calling police when it's noticed - will ultimately cut back on shoplifting.

"If you don't have a receipt, you shouldn't be able to return something," he said.

Receipt and gift card fraud, he said, are some of the more popular ways in which merchandise is being stolen from county stores' shelves.

Police generally increase patrols of shopping centers around the holiday season, but Alton said there are ways shoppers and retailers can help them to become more effective in nabbing thieves.

"If they suspect activity, call police," Alton said.

The following are suspicious ways in which shoplifters commonly behave, he said.

· Carry bags into stores from stores that are not in the same shopping center.

· Watch store clerks more than they look at the store's racks.

· Grab multiple items or clothes without looking at the pricetags.

· Hang out behind fixtures, displays or carry oversized bags.

· Attempt to return items without receipts.

· Female shoppers who use a man's credit card to make purchases or vice versa.

· Stockpile items close to the front of the store. Alton said often shoplifters do this so they can later run into the store and grab their desired items.

· Make return visits to stores for returns on gift cards or gifts. Alton said sometimes shoplifters grab an item off a shelf, go to the returns desk and try to get cash back for an item they never paid for in the first place.

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