Police: Organized retail theft on the rise in Durham
Organized retail theft is on the rise in Durham, hurting the city’s economy and driving up the price of goods for everyone, a police investigator told a crime-prevention group Thursday.
Speaking at Northgate Mall to members of Durham Businesses Against Crime, Investigator Mark Feskanich of the Durham Police Department said he recently talked to a shoplifter who generated $91,000 in a seven-year period in Durham and surrounding counties.
Feskanich said many thieves break into big-box stores and clean the shelves of high-demand items – cigarettes, razor blades and even Tide detergent.
They often sell them to small convenience stores, where the store owner pays a fraction of their value, then puts the product on the shelf for sale to unsuspecting customers at its regular price – generating a hefty profit.
But often, Feskanich said, it’s obvious that dirt-cheap items are stolen.
“I had a 13-year-old kid come up to me and try to sell me an Xbox [at a low price],” he said. “And I thought: ‘Well, that doesn’t sound right – a 13-year-old wanting to get rid of an Xbox.’ ” He declined the offer.
Recently, Feskanich was at a garage sale when a man pulled up in a truck full of lawn mowers and other lawn equipment for sale.
“I asked him: ‘Where are the serial numbers? Do you have receipts?’ And he said: ‘Well, I don’t want to do business with you’.”
Feskanich said it pays to be skeptical.
“If somebody doesn’t seem right, walk away from them,” he said. “Ask questions if it seems almost too good to be true, because it probably is.”
Police investigators have been stepping up efforts to put a dent in organized retail theft, and it’s paying off.
Since the operation began, Kroger reported a sharp drop in thefts from its Durham stores, he said.
“People have been breaking into places like Kroger and Food Lion and stealing as many cartons of cigarettes as they can,” Feskanich said.
Police recently arrested people suspected of fencing stolen goods, including owners of mini-marts, a towing business, tobacco store, tire store and apartment complex.
Sgt. Rodney Hunter, an investigations supervisor, said the retail theft crackdown has been aided by citizen tips and cooperation from business owners.
Hunter said it’s important to cut off businesses that deal in stolen goods.
“If [thieves] don’t have anywhere to take this stolen stuff, then people will stop buying it,” Hunter said. “There’s no need to steal it if they can’t get rid of it.”