Retail theft rings more active as holiday shopping season approaches

As the holiday shopping season approaches, police across Alberta are reminding consumers that if a deal seems too good to be true, there's a chance you're buying stolen goods.

Often it's organized criminal groups targeting retailers, with ill-gotten goods then sold on the black market, said Const. Kevin Anderson with the Calgary police organized retail crime team.

"It's different than shoplifting and it's definitely different than robbery," he said.

"The message we're really hoping to get out is that Albertans specifically, and Calgarians, can help prevent organized retail crime by recognizing the crime itself and refusing to buy items that they believe to be stolen."

So far in 2018, retailers in Calgary and surrounding area have reported losses of about $10 million, police say.

The most common types of businesses targeted include:

  • Designer fashion and high-end fragrance retailers.
  • Cosmetics.
  • Athletic wear.
  • Book stores.
  • Electronics.
  • Groceries.
  • Liquor.

Thefts cost retailers an estimated $4.6 billion each year in Canada, Anderson said.

Colin Hall/CBC

Along with grab and runs, offenders often utilize high-tech methods for stealing, like specially lined bags that won't trigger anti-theft devices at doorways.

And stolen goods are often sold at a massive discount, which should be a red flag for consumers.

"If you're purchasing something that's brand new in the box and it's a fraction of the price of the original item, those are some of the things to highlight with respect to, this might be a stolen item," said Anderson.

"We can also avoid purchasing the stolen items by being aware of what the actual market value is, asking sellers how they obtained the property ... why do you have so many and why are they all brand new in the box?

"Really just keeping a sharp mind to the fact that this exists and you may be buying stolen property and inadvertently you're contributing to other criminal elements."

Colin Hall/CBC

Groups will also move from city to city committing thefts, said Const. Ray Wilson of the Edmonton Police Service.

"The same prolific offenders are going up and down the highway and because we have relationships with the major retailers, we're getting information that it's the same offenders that are hitting Edmonton and going down the highway to Calgary, Airdrie, Lethbridge," he said.

Calgary police arrested seven teenagers earlier this month following an hours-long robbery spree across all four quadrants of the city.

The teens allegedly stole jewelry, cell phones, clothing, footwear and video game consoles and staff and customers were injured when they tried to intervene.

On Monday, police in Lethbridge announced seven teens are facing charges for the organized theft of iPhones from two stores at a mall in the southern Alberta city.