Organized Retail Crime: These Deals Are More Than a Steal

When shoppers pay organized retail crime syndicates’ staggeringly low prices, they unwittingly bag a bargain that has real consequences for many victims.

Last Updated:
April 15, 2024
| ~
min Read
Meg Moore
Marketing Writer


We’re a nation of bargain-hunters. From downloading shopping rewards and savings apps to using deal comparison sites and in-store coupons, Americans love to bag a great deal. 

But when that deal is likely a steal—courtesy of organized retail crime syndicates’ five-finger discounting methods—those staggeringly low prices reveal nefarious numbers and real victims behind the steep discount.


ORC theft is conducted by rings of people who steal property with the intent to sell or return stolen merchandise. Incidents take many forms—from coordinated thefts of specific goods to orchestrated, brazen attacks on local retailers. Each occurrence is often part of a larger, sophisticated scheme, where the leaders of the criminal network plan the attacks long before shoplifters hit the store.

While this kind of theft has been an ongoing concern for years, retailers say it's reached a boiling point, even causing fatal violence. Federal authorities agree, warning how ORC has become a threat to public safety and public health in the United States.

Even more concerning? Recent investigations have uncovered more incidents where dangerous international crime syndicates, violent gangs, drug-trafficking cartels, and even networks with suspected ties to financing terrorism, are turning to ORC to fund their illicit and illegal activities—those that are far more serious than stealing baby formula and consumer electronics.

“These criminal networks may be full-time drug traffickers, but they see an opportunity to work with a crew that's already stealing,” Raul Aguilar, who oversees international organized crime cases for Homeland Security Investigations, told ABC News. “And because it's hundreds of millions of dollars, [the money they make] can easily be diverted for [other] kinds of activities."


ORC includes professional shoplifting, cargo theft, and any other organized crime that happens in a retail setting or supply chain. 

As with most shoppers, ORC groups hunt for popular products, but comparison shopping isn’t their goal. Rather, they uncover stores’ vulnerabilities, plan calculated attacks, and “hire” people to steal large volumes of high-value products.

In many cases, their “employees” have lists of items to steal and their terms of employment, working conditions, and paychecks are against the law. These crimes then fund the ORC network’s other activities, including forcing people to:

  • Sell goods door-to-door or in open-air markets
  • Broker direct merchandise sales using peer-to-peer sites, such as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, and then rob the customer at the meeting place
  • Engage in sex work


Many people who are lured into shoplifting by ORC organizations live at the edges of our society.

“These folks are being smuggled across the southwest border are agreeing to be boosters (thieves) because they make their money (to pay back coyotes) so much quicker,” Alysa Erichs, former Acting Executive Associate Director of Homeland Security Investigations, told the Boston Herald.

Others are children, some kidnapped, but most are runaways escaping sexual abuse, physical abuse, alcohol, or substance abuse, and believe they can make better lives for themselves on their own. Their vulnerability makes them prime candidates for criminals’ illegal activities, often starting with drugs.

“That’s how they control their victims—get them hooked on drugs, get some sort of control over them,” Kevin Metcalf, founder of the National Child Protection Task Force, told Loss Prevention Magazine. “Then they’ll use them for shoplifting or credit card fraud schemes.”

Another common scam criminals entice their victims to pursue? Procure retail gift cards. These cards, due to their anonymity and lack of a paper trail, fuel criminals’ trafficking operations further. In many instances, gift cards can be used as payments for online sex ads, leveraged for sex work transactions, or to launder larger sums of money without a trace. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the average price of an online sex ad is $60. Gift cards paid for more than one million sex ads last year, racking up $60 million in potential laundered gift card expenditures.

“Really, the sky is the limit, especially since many gift cards can also be sold on third-party resale sites so the sellers can walk away with cash,” Metcalf said.


Criminals often use shoplifting and other retail-related crimes as a way to coerce people to commit more insidious crimes, like sex work. This happens in the U.S. more often than you might think, especially for young people. In 2021, 66% of victims in U.S. sex trafficking cases were minors, according to a report published by the Human Trafficking Institute. 

What’s worse, the problem is increasing. The number of persons prosecuted for human trafficking increased from 729 in 2011 to 1,343 in 2020, an 84% increase, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Metcalf said asset protection leaders should help lead efforts to combat human trafficking. Linking loss prevention efforts with retail owners’ safety protocols is one way to help address the issue. The first step is to start the conversation with business leaders about what they can do to help victims and collaborate with law enforcement to discern how best to approach the challenge. 


Innovative retail security systems and surveillance technologies are helping business leaders collect data and shopping intelligence and prevent organized retail crime. Asset protection leaders, working collaboratively with law enforcement, can study this data and surveillance to uncover possible instances of human trafficking and identify possible victims.

For example, there are some common occurrences that asset protection leaders may encounter, including people who:

  • Buy seemingly odd purchases, like buying burner phones in bulk.
  • Purchase large quantities of products to prevent pregnancies, like condoms, lubricants, and Plan B medications.
  • Pay with an unusually large amount of cash.
  • Watch another person make a purchase and refuse to let them hold their own money or identification.

In addition, there are signs that can indicate a person may be under the watchful eye of a trafficker. If an asset protection leader is watching a surveillance video and notices that a person seems:

  • Afraid, anxious, or nervous
  • Unusually tense
  • Sleep deprived
  • Combative
  • Malnourished

Or, they that have:

  • Matching tattoos with the person they are shopping with
  • Marks of physical abuse, like black eyes or visible welts
  • Poor hygiene
  • Multiple phones
  • Motel keys

They may be able to link previous transactions, data points, and surveillance footage from their shopping intelligence systems to help law enforcement take down an organized retail crime syndicate and save lives.

LiveView Technologies’ enterprise security camera systems can help identify possible traffickers. The mobile security systems are proactive, complete with integrated layers of video surveillance capabilities including 360-degree remote monitoring and robust video analytics. LVT Units include motion sensors, lights, thermal imaging, and alarm systems, which help retailers thwart ORC incidents in the parking lot, before bad actors even enter the store.

Ready to learn why our customers trust LVT for crime prevention?  Contact our team today for a demo.

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