How Organized Retail Crime is Evolving and What Retailers Can Do to Stay Ahead 

It seems as if criminals are always one step ahead of loss prevention efforts. Here are some tips to keep your retail business out in front.

Last Updated:
March 27, 2024
| ~
min Read
Nikki Siegel
Marketing Writer

Organized retail crime (ORC) can be traced back to the 1980s when law enforcement first started identifying groups of shoplifters stealing not for personal gain, but for the profit made off of the stolen goods.

The concept of organized retail crime may be 40 years old, but its methods today are anything but. In fact, it’s actually the adaptability and evolution of ORC groups that makes them such a formidable threat.


It’s no secret that technological advancement has exploded over the last 20 years. These advancements serve (and hinder) both sides of the law.

Organized retail crime groups, while still operating on the same basic concept of professional thieves working together to steal and resell merchandise, are often significantly more sophisticated with their methods these days. (Large-scale smash-and-grab jobs, which tend to snag headlines most easily, are less common than their sensationalism might lead you to believe.)

While ORC can range from professional shoplifting to violent hijacking, a couple of the more common methods today are also much harder to spot at first glance.

Fake Delivery Identification

Product packaged for delivery from a manufacturer to the retailer makes for a tempting target. After all, all that merchandise is already conveniently wrapped on pallets, ready for transportation. While thefts still occur when bad actors hijack trucks or break into a storage site, one of the more common—and effective—forms of cargo theft occurs when the thieves create convincing fake paperwork and exploit online verification systems, allowing them to simply drive on site, claim to be the delivery driver for that load, and drive off into the sunset with their haul.

In-Store Fraud

In order to keep their operations running less noticeably, ORC groups often use less obvious measures of theft, including the following:

  • Barcode switching: Thieves cover the actual product barcode with a fake, allowing them to “purchase” the item for significantly less money.
  • Return fraud: Thieves return stolen merchandise for store refunds or cash back.
  • Gift card fraud: Gift cards are purchased using fake credit cards or the real credit cards of unknowing victims.

Fortunately, amidst all this technological trickery, those same advancements also give retailers the chance to fight back against ORC activity. Tech has a big role to play in organized retail crime prevention, with businesses implementing everything from using artificial intelligence to verify purchases and detect patterns to employing self-locking carts and RFID chips to stop thieves from using stolen goods.


The security industry is typically known for its reactive approach: A problem occurs at a store, so measures are put in place to prevent that issue from happening again. While there is definite merit to responding appropriately to issues as they arise, the best practices to combat organized retail crime hinge on an approach that is both reactive and proactive.

What’s the benefit of solving security issues before they occur? Aside from the obvious benefit of further protecting merchandise, it has a lot to do with the perception of safety from customers and employees alike.

While those violent smash-and-grab jobs might be less common than other, more subtle forms of theft and fraud, they still do happen. According to recent NRF reports, retailers are reporting a rise in violent offenders in the last couple of years, making it more likely than ever that a customer or employee might witness one of these violent events firsthand, a markedly different experience than watching a robbery recording on the news from the safety of their own home.

It only takes one firsthand experience to forever alter that person’s perception of safety in the retail environment, making it more crucial than ever to do everything possible to keep those violent events curtailed.

Conversely, implementing proactive measures such as flashy mobile security units in store parking lots has been proven to increase feelings of safety in customers and employees alike.


The threat of ORC can be counted in billions of dollars of losses and in decreased feelings of safety and security all around. With the adaptability and evolution of ORC groups, what can be done to combat this problem on the retail front?

In addition to studying their own stores to come up with solutions for any existing problems, retailers can increase the security of their businesses by using four key ideas.

1. Install obvious security methods

Thieves tend to take the path of least resistance. Their efforts (and the risk they take in the process) has to be worth the reward at the end. Obvious security measures tell any potential wrongdoers that this isn’t worth the risk.

Security measures that act as powerful deterrents include:

  • Mobile security units, such as LVT Units: With their flashing lights, law enforcement coloring, and large size, LVT Units are one of the first big warning signs would-be wrongdoers get when approaching a store. Their parking lot presence serves as a flashing reminder to not break the law.
  • In-store cameras: Business security camera systems are one of the more effective security measures. While their ability to record and detect wrongdoing is valuable, their mere presence often acts as a powerful deterrent as long as they are easily identifiable.
  • Signage: Something as simple as outlining security measures implemented in a store’s location can draw attention to the fact that a location will not be an easy mark.

2. Implement technological solutions

Technology offers many ways to combat and prevent ORC, including the following:

AI-powered analytics and alerts

  • Facial recognition and license plate reader software
  • Online ordering options
  • RFID technology
  • Self-locking shopping carts
  • Mobile security units with advanced detection capabilities
  • Smart access locks

3. Integrate your security system’s components

While many stores often have several security system components in place, these security components are significantly more effective when working together to see the bigger picture. Look for platforms and products that will easily integrate with other security system components, giving you a holistic view of your store’s security. This integrated approach makes it easier to analyze patterns and compile evidence in the case of wrongdoing.

A comprehensive approach isn’t just limited to the tech, but should also extend to employee training and response.

4. Collaborate with law enforcement and neighboring retailers

While some retailers have loss prevention teams in place, ORC isn’t a problem they can solve on their own. ORC groups are smart, adaptable, and often willing to cross state lines. Their threat is on a large scale, so why wouldn’t the solution be equally scaled? Working with law enforcement and neighboring retailers to combat this threat via information sharing and timely cooperation is an incredibly powerful tool in this fight against crime.

Platforms that allow you to share evidence easily and quickly make a big difference when it comes to the prosecution of criminals and the recovery of product. In addition, the collection of evidence on a larger scale enables law enforcement agencies to build cases against the leaders of criminal organizations, helping to fight the root of the problem instead of merely nabbing the low-level criminals doing the dirty work.

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