Consumers are being asked to think twice before buying questionable products online and report thefts anonymously in order to curb organized retail theft that has escalated in frequency and violence.
Toronto Crime Stoppers launched the second phase of their Organized Retail Crime campaign at Toronto Police headquarters on January 11.
Chief Myron Demkiw said the public can help deter theft by not buying items for resale they suspect are stolen and reporting people selling those items.
“We encourage you to help deter criminal activity and improve public safety,” he said. “We are confident that phase two of this campaign will successfully increase the awareness of organized retail crime within our communities and enhance public safety for everyone. At the same time, consumers must be thoughtful. If something is offered at an extremely low price, they need to ask questions. When something is too good to be true, it’s not true.”
Anonymous tips to police can be made by calling 1-800-222-TIPS or by visiting www.222tips.com. You will not be asked to identify yourself and will never have to testify in court.
Retail crime costs businesses about $5 billion yearly, resulting in consumers paying higher prices for products.
Retail Council of Canada Executive Adviser Rui Rodrigues said businesses are very concerned about the increase in violence associated with retail crime.
“Shoplifting is always an issue we have to deal with,” he said. “But a lot of businesses are reporting an increase in violence, assaults, arson and property damage that are perpetrated in their locations and have gone up 200, 300-percent since pre-pandemic. That is significant as most people start a career in retail when they are young. They sign up to work, to have fun and to learn. They don’t sign up to be assaulted. The number of weapons being utilized compared to previous years has increased also. A retail theft is being turned into a robbery and an assault.
Rodrigues said the growing number of online marketplaces makes it easier for criminals to resell stolen items.
“Shoplifting, as most know, has evolved into a more lucrative crime enterprise with organized groups of professional thieves stealing or fraudulently obtaining billions of dollars in retail merchandise to resell into the marketplace,” said TCS Board Chair Sean Sportun. “This activity, known as organized retail crime, continues to be a growing concern for retailers across our city, across Canada and across North America.”
In addition to defrauding retailers, threatening employees and increasing costs to consumers, Sportun added that many of the organized crime networks use their ill-gotten gains to fund other criminal activities, including human and drug trafficking and gun & gang activity.
“What is more concerning is the potential public health and safety concerns involved for example some products commonly stolen for resale include infant formula, over-the-counter medications and other health and beauty products which may be expired, repackaged or improperly stored or handled before reaching the consumer,” he noted.
Sportun said the campaign’s focus is straightforward.
“It is about creating awareness in the community on the growing issue of retail theft, letting the offenders know the retail industry is taking action and providing citizens with a conduit to relay anonymous information of those involved in this crime to the police by calling Crime Stoppers,” he said. “This includes those who knowingly purchase these stolen items.”
The campaign comprises billboard advertisements, social media ads and radio public service announcements.
“Understanding this crime is not isolated to just our city, Toronto Crime Stoppers has designed this campaign in a manner to be used generically by Crime Stoppers programs and police services across Canada if they are interested. By working together with aggressive campaigns like this, Toronto Crime Stoppers and the retail industry will continue to make a difference in the prevention of crime at their locations.”