Is retail theft really on the rise?

On Behalf of | May 28, 2024 | Theft |

It seems like every retail chain is suddenly crying foul about all the retail thefts that are on the rise – and they’re constantly adding new anti-theft measures, raising prices and closing shops in “problem” areas in response.

How much of the retail theft problem is fact – and how much is fiction? The answers may surprise you.

There are all kinds of retail theft

For the sake of convenience, retail theft can broadly be defined as “larceny.” Larceny encompasses all kinds of theft offenses, including:

  • Shoplifting
  • Smash-and-grabs
  • Tag-switching
  • Barcode tampering
  • Refund or return fraud
  • Organized retail crime (coordinated shoplifting)
  • Employee theft

Retail theft can indeed eat into a company’s profits and cause lasting economic harm – however, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) says that larceny has actually been falling since 1990, and it took an even bigger dip in 2020-2021. Although 2022 saw a slight uptick in retail thefts, the number of incidents is still way lower than what was seen in 2019.

So, why is there so much hype about retail thefts in the news all the time? In certain areas, such as New York and Los Angeles, retail thefts have risen – but those are outliers in the national picture. In many cases, companies may be intentionally demonizing “shoplifters” in order to explain their store closures (especially in underserved areas) and declining profits. 

Unfortunately, that tactic has put a target on the backs of a lot of innocent people. Store security guards may be incentivized to look for acts of theft where none were intended or even occurred. If you find yourself facing retail theft charges, the smart thing to do is to invoke your rights and seek immediate legal guidance.