CVS Pharmacy and the Two-Minute, $2,000 Crime

CVS Pharmacy reports that the two-minute crime, $2,000 crime has arrived.

CVS Pharmacy, with locations around the country, reports that every three minutes one of their stores experiences an organized retail crime (ORC) incident. The current “street term” for ORC is a smash-and-grab robbery.

These robberies first made headlines toward the end of 2021. They are now being reported in all retail settings, from pharmacies like CVS Pharmacy to high-end retail stores to home improvement mega-stores. No matter the retailer or type of retailer, they probably have been — or very likely will be — hit by a smash-and-grab robbery.

But here is how CVS Pharmacy stands out.

Not only are these robberies happening every three minutes, but the pharmacy also reports that, on average, a professional ORC thief targeting CVS steals $2,000 worth of goods in two minutes or less.

Just so we are clear, ORC and smash-and-grab robberies, in particular, are not examples of shoplifting. Shoplifting typically involves one person who steals merchandise for their own purposes. Their actions are also far more discreet. They steal items when no one is looking or in locations of a store where there are no surveillance cameras.

In ORC, thieves don’t care if someone sees them or not.

Further, whether amateurs or career criminals, shoplifters typically work alone, not in groups.  ORC thieves prefer being in groups. Not only are groups usually involved in ORC but there may also be people behind the scenes not involved in the actual theft.

The ultimate goal of ORC is to steal merchandise from one retail store and then resell that merchandise to another retailer or, what is becoming most common, sell the merchandise online for financial gain.

“The ease with which these online sellers [referring to the thieves] can open and close their sites, essentially undetected, is directly related to this increase in criminal activity in our stores,” says Ben Dugan, director of the organized retail crime and corporate investigations division at CVS. Plus, he says, “it’s only getting worse due to the lack of regulation surrounding online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay.”

Putting the “Organized” in ORC

Dugan says that ORC crimes are indeed organized, often beginning with a “booster.” The booster is someone who steals directly from a store on their own, then recruits others to take over and steal for them.

Essentially, the booster’s job is to break the ice: find out where in the store the best items to steal are located.  This way, those recruited to do the stealing know exactly where to go and how to get in and out quickly, taking the most valuable merchandise with them.

By the way, the most valuable merchandise may not necessarily be the most expensive items in the store. The booster will often instruct their crew to go after items in high demand that can be quickly sold. While there may be more profit in higher-end costly items, there is often a smaller market for them, and they can take longer to sell.

Introducing the ORC “Fence”

As the booster’s business grows, they may forgo selling the stolen merchandise directly. Instead, they turn the items over to a “fence,” who collects the items from several boosters around the country. Now, the organization gets even bigger. The fence consolidates the goods, puts them in warehouses, and sells them online or in brick-and-mortar stores to unsuspecting customers.

In many ways, ORC is ingenious. But ORC is also expensive, costing retailers an estimated $45 billion annually, according to the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail, a nonprofit national association of law enforcement and retail loss-prevention professionals.

As to putting the brakes on ORC and smash-and-grab robberies, we have discussed the importance of conducting risk assessments in earlier posts. These will help diminish ORC in individual stores. 

But on a much larger scale, retailers like CVS Pharmacy are asking Congress to step in, requiring that mega-retailers authenticate goods being sold on their sites — verifying that those goods have been purchased from legitimate vendors and manufacturers. So far, there is uncertainty if such laws will get the green light.

Johnathan Tal is Chief Executive Officer of TAL Global Corporation, an international investigative and security-consulting firm.  He served as a Military Field Intelligence Officer for the Israeli Armed Forces during the 1970s.  As an intelligence specialist, Tal supervised and initiated behind-enemy-lines intelligence gathering relying on both hardware systems and personnel.  Tal has also served as an anti-terrorism security specialist.  He is a licensed investigator, former President of World Association of Detectives (2000-2001) and holds a Bachelor of Science degree.  He can be reached through his company website at www.talglobal.com

© TAL Global, 2019