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Organized retail crime (ORC) refers to large-scale shoplifting incidents or other illegal (and sometimes violent) acts conducted by groups of criminals with the purpose of stealing significant amounts of merchandise. ORC has become a growing concern for retail businesses in recent years. In fact, the National Retail Federation (NRF) reported that ORC costs retail businesses an average of $700,000 for every $1 billion in sales. This surge in ORC has largely been caused by criminals looking to capitalize on the accelerated shift to e-commerce brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, criminals are stealing large amounts of goods and reselling them to unsuspecting online shoppers at reduced prices.
One ORC method that has recently come to light is flash mob robberies. Also called “smash-and-grab” robberies, these incidents involve a group of criminals swarming a retail business all at once (sometimes with weapons), overwhelming staff and law enforcement on the scene, and attempting to steal mass amounts of merchandise. Flash mob robberies have become more common, costly and violent over the past year, drawing widespread concern from retail businesses and their employees.
The following article provides more information on this ORC method, details about the latest flash mob robberies and possible measures to prevent such incidents.
What Are Flash Mob Robberies?
Flash mob robberies are not crimes of opportunity. Rather, these incidents are planned ahead of time by a coordinated group of criminals—whether it’s five or 100 people. According to data from the NRF, 79% of retail businesses have experienced multiple-offender crimes in the last year, with 10% of these incidents involving characteristics of flash mob robberies. In recent incidents, flash mob robbery plans have often resulted from criminals communicating over social media platforms.
When such an incident occurs, the group of criminals typically approaches the target retail business all at once, making it more difficult for employees or law enforcement to stop them. These criminals may simply rely on the size of their group to carry out the robbery without being apprehended or potentially leverage weapons and acts of violence to further deter anyone from intervening in their plan. For instance, criminals may utilize the following tactics:
- Breaking storefront glass or display cases
- Carrying guns, knives, sledgehammers or crowbars
- Engaging in physical assault (e.g., punching, slapping, kicking or biting)
- Using pepper spray or other chemical irritants
After swarming the target retail business, the group of criminals usually attempts to steal large amounts of merchandise quickly before promptly fleeing the scene. In some cases, certain criminals may be responsible for waiting outside the business with a vehicle (or several vehicles) to help the rest of the group exit the premises as fast as possible following the robbery.
Because flash mob robberies are group activities, it’s rare for every criminal involved in such incidents to get caught. Although a handful of criminals may be apprehended on the scene, the number of people involved in these robberies makes it easier for criminals to escape without consequences—thus allowing them to plan and be involved in future incidents.
Recent Flash Mob Robberies
Retail businesses across the country have been impacted by flash mob robberies, including independent shops and large corporations. Here are some of the latest incidents that have taken place:
- Nordstrom—A group of five criminals sprayed a security guard with a chemical irritant before stealing $25,000 worth of handbags from a Nordstrom store in Los Angeles, California. In another incident, 80 to 90 criminals targeted a different Nordstrom store in San Francisco, California—utilizing pepper spray, crowbars, knives and firearms to attack employees and fleeing the scene with $100,000 worth of goods. Only three individuals were apprehended amid the incident.
- Louis Vuitton—In Chicago, Illinois, a group of 14 criminals stole over $120,000 worth of merchandise in under 60 seconds from a Louis Vuitton store. The criminals physically assaulted employees who tried to stop them and leveraged three escape vehicles to swiftly exit the premises.
- Sunglass Hut—A group of four criminals physically assaulted employees at a Sunglass Hut in Monterey, California, before stealing nearly $30,000 worth of goods and promptly fleeing the scene.
- Best Buy—In a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota, between 10 and 15 criminals invaded a Best Buy store and stole a range of electronics—including televisions, computers and tablets. A similar incident involving 20 to 30 criminals also took place at a different Best Buy store in a nearby suburb.
- Jewelers—A group of nine criminals used sledgehammers to smash display cases and steal a variety of jewelry from Iceberg Diamonds, a store located in Concord, California. The criminals did so in less than one minute. In another incident, 30 to 40 criminals targeted Sam’s Jewelers in San Jose, California, also smashing display cases with sledgehammers and stealing several products.
Flash mob robberies can carry numerous consequences for impacted retail businesses. In addition to lost merchandise, property damage and substantial recovery costs, these incidents can seriously threaten the safety of retail employees and other customers at the scene.
As such, it’s critical for retail businesses to utilize proper strategies for preventing and responding to flash mob robberies. Some risk management measures for consideration include the following:
- Train employees. Be sure to train retail employees on how to detect and respond to potential signs of a flash mob robbery. These signs may include a sudden emergence of excess vehicles in the store parking lot, a large group of people congregating outside the store or quickly heading toward the storefront, and customers who look like they may be carrying dangerous items or weapons. Employees should be stationed throughout the store during their shifts to be able to detect these signs. Furthermore, train employees on ways to safely mitigate violent incidents. Employees should know to never put their personal safety at risk to stop a robbery.
- Utilize security systems. In addition to training employees, make sure to equip the store with various security systems to help deter criminals. This may include security cameras, laminated glass, merchandise sensors and alarm systems. It’s also important to consider security elements that can hinder criminals from fleeing the scene of a flash mob robbery, such as fog systems, strobe lights and roll-down gates. Hiring dedicated security personnel may also offer further protection.
- Ensure proper product placement. To prevent criminals from stealing high-value merchandise, it’s best to place these goods in elevated areas that can’t be easily reached without assistance. To minimize overall losses amid a flash mob robbery, place limited amounts of each product on store shelves and keep the excess inventory in a secure area.
- Work with law enforcement. Build strong relationships with local law enforcement and ORC prevention coalitions and follow any guidance they provide for avoiding flash mob robberies. Also, consider asking these parties to help monitor social media platforms for potential ORC plans or other suspicious activity.
- Establish an emergency response plan. In the event that a flash mob robbery does occur, it’s crucial to have response protocols and lockdown procedures in place. Be sure to create a documented emergency response plan to minimize losses and protect employees (and customers) amid such an incident. Although specific response plan measures may vary between stores, employees should be instructed to contact the appropriate authorities if they detect signs of a flash mob robbery. When a robbery begins, employees should know how to implement the necessary security systems, shut down the store and protect themselves from harm. This response plan should be regularly reviewed and updated as needed.
- Secure adequate coverage. Lastly, it’s critical to ensure the proper protection against losses related to flash mob robberies by purchasing sufficient coverage. Commercial property insurance typically offers reimbursement to retail businesses that experience losses from theft or ORC. Consult a trusted insurance professional for further information on coverage solutions related to flash mob robberies.
For more industry-specific risk management guidance, contact us today.