"Flash mob" robberies in a variety of stores including Best Buy, Louis Vuitton, and Nordstrom, have left workers traumatized and are making it difficult for some retailers to hire people, according to The Washington Post.
The series of brazen, large-scale "smash-and-grabs" have rocked the retail industry, while creating a challenge for law enforcement.
At least 18 people broke into and robbed a Nordstrom store on Nov. 22 in Los Angeles and made off with about $25,000 worth of merchandise.
A Louis Vuitton store in the Chicago areas was hit in mid-November as a group made off with more than $100,000 in merchandise.
And the Post noted that on Black Friday, a group of eight people swiped $400 worth of sledgehammers, crowbars, and hammers from a Home Depot in Lakewood, Calif. Also on the day after Thanksgiving, a group ransacked a Bottega Veneta boutique in Los Angeles, and about 30 people stormed a Best Buy near Minneapolis to grab electronics.
The crimes aimed at retailers have been increasing throughout the year. The National Retail Federation said shoplifting incidents cost retailers about $700,000 for every $1 billion in sales.
The increasing mob thefts are the culmination of several factors, including a shortage of security guards and a pullback from COVID-19 protocols limiting the number of those who can enter a store, the newspaper said.
Best Buy Chief Executive Corie Barry says the thefts are making it difficult to hire more workers — particularly in shoplifting hot spots on the West Coast.
"This is a real issue that hurts and scares real people," she said in an earnings call. "This is traumatizing for our associates and is unacceptable."
Video of the robberies has gone viral and, in some cases, sparked copycats, retail executives and security experts told the Post. And those behind the robberies have used the internet to organize the heists.
"It’s the organizing capability of the internet that I think is really attractive to offenders," said Scott Decker, a professor emeritus of criminology at Arizona State University. "Is this the start of a new trend or copycat offending?"
California Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed to "significantly increase … efforts to go after these retail rings."
"If people are breaking in, people stealing your property, they need to be arrested," he said Wednesday. "Police need to arrest them. Prosecutors need to prosecute them. Judges need to hold people accountable for breaking the law. These are not victimless crimes, and I have no empathy for these criminal elements."
And Jeff Zisner, chief executive of the workplace security firm Aegis, said: "It’s a perfect storm of opportunity that folks are clearly exploiting. Historically we’d only see this at high-end stores where you could pick up a few things and be out with $5,000 worth of stuff, but now it’s even happening at Home Depot."
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