Police on high alert for shoplifters, identity thieves

Law enforcement agencies targeting organized retail crime

The holidays isn’t just a busy time for shoppers.

It’s peak time for shoplifters, but area law enforcement agencies are trying to change that.

The Twin Cities Organized Retail Crime Association, a nonprofit corporate fraud investigation unit, kicked off “Operation Blitz” prior to Thanksgiving.

It’s a coordinated effort by 36 law enforcement agencies targeting retail theft, identity theft and financial fraud.

“We’re not concerned with the mother stealing a can of baby formula or a kid stealing a candy bar,” TCORCA Executive Director and St. Paul Sgt. Charles Anderson said. “We’re concerned about the man who steals 50 cans of baby formula in one minute and has a getaway driver and sells them on the black market.”

They’re joining forces with retail agencies throughout December to target professional shoplifters who are tied to larger crime syndicates.

The perpetrators might sell the goods out of the back of a truck or online, and they’re involved in more sinister national organized theft ring.

“These groups unitize mules to conduct identity theft on a grand scale and laundry lots of money,” Anderson said. “This stuff goes on every day under the radar.”

Over the Thanksgiving break, “Operation Blitz” turned up stolen vehicles, made several drug arrests and found cloned cards.

“Someone was pulled over with $4,000 worth of baby and children’s clothing that was stolen,” Anderson said. “We received a tip from an asset protection person. All of the goods were destined for a Facebook site where people were taking orders and going out and stealing.”

They plan to release full data and arrest counts at the end of the month.

For those out shopping during the holidays, Anderson said it’s good to always check the pay terminals especially at gas stations and ATMs where credit card skimmers have been found.

Anderson said the machines often include cameras, so customers should use their hands to cover up when punching in their pin numbers.

When out shopping, don’t leave valuables in cars including recently purchased gifts.

“It’s low hanging fruit,” Anderson said. “They can smash a window, grab and go.”

If you’re shopping online, use a trusted payment site that ships within U.S., use just one email when shopping, don’t throw away mail with personal identification and check financial statements often.

“Don’t leave it up to the bank,” Anderson said.

And be wary of buying new things online at secondary sites.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Anderson said. “Trust your gut. If it feels like a scam, it’s probably a scam.”

The Eagan Police Department is one of the 36 metro agencies participating. Eagan already has several plainclothes officers on duty as well as uniformed officers stationed in high retail areas throughout the year.

“The real the advantage in coordinating this effort is information sharing,” Eagan police officer Aaron Machtemes said. “Were looking for professional shoplifters stealing high dollar items and massive amounts of product that they turn around to sell to benefit there larger criminal activities such as human trafficking. We’re out there identifying trends and the tricks of the trade.”

Several other law enforcement agencies in the south metro are also participating, according to Anderson.

Residents are encouraged to call local police if they feel their identity has been compromised or if they find something suspect online.