(CNBC) You may think of shoplifting as a petty crime, but think again. It’s a $30-billion a year business scamming not only retailers, but also you, the consumer.
Police call it “organized retail crime”, giant crime rings with foot soldiers, fences that sell the loot, and bosses like Rico Vendetti, whose operation stole from big box retailers and sold the goods online.
Before he got caught Vendetti sold around $700,000 worth of stolen retail merchandise.
Vendetti’s gang swiped teeth whitening strips, razors, and electric toothbrushes. Health and beauty aids are big targets.
“People want them, they’re high value, and easy, small items to take,” says Bob Moraca, the Vice President of Loss Prevention at the National Retail Federation.
Other targets include cosmetics and baby formula, and that can be dangerous.
“They have expiration dates. So if those things are not stored properly, they can end up being a health hazard for the end consumer,” Moraca explains.
To protect yourself, check the package. Mismatched stickers and scratched off serial numbers are telltale signs. So are unusually low prices. Shoplifting rings can afford to sell items cheap because they didn’t spend money manufacturing them.