The teenagers looked like any other holiday shoppers Sunday, until an employee at the Wal-Mart on Deans Bridge Road peered at the feed from security cameras.
On the screen, he saw three shoppers select and conceal in their pockets and purses $154 worth of makeup, phone chargers and fragrance packs before leaving the store without paying, according to an incident report from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
In the world of mass retail, the holidays are not only a season of giving but also a time for taking.
Since Nov. 1, the sheriff’s office has worked more than 100 shoplifting cases. For the year, it has opened 1,281 investigations, many at the Deans Bridge Wal-Mart and Augusta Mall, each of which has fallen victim to the five-finger discount 284 times, records show.
“If a business has surveillance equipment, make sure it is recording and monitoring entrances and exits,” Sgt. Shane McDaniel, a sheriff’s office spokesman, warned retailers.
With holiday shoppers packing stores, McDaniel said businesses throughout Richmond County are hiring special-duty deputies to patrol sales floors and parking lots for suspicious characters.
It is unclear exactly how many businesses employ public and private security guards.
Certain retailers, such as Kohl’s, TJ Maxx and Marshalls, keep security efforts secret for “competitive and proprietary” purposes.
Larger operations, including Augusta Mall and the Target on Robert C. Daniel Jr. Parkway, will talk about the measures they take, but only to a certain extent.
“During the holidays and throughout the year, Target takes a multilayered approach to security, including technology, team member training and partnerships with law enforcement,” said spokeswoman Jessica Stevens.
Stevens declined to describe in detail Target’s security plan, but said techniques include uniformed guards and undercover officers, sophisticated surveillance systems and bright lighting in stores and parking lots.
“The safety and security of our guests is a top priority,” she said.
Such tactics are also practiced at Augusta Mall, home to more than 150 retailers.
“We have a customized public safety program that entails many different measures,” said the general manager, Andy Wilke. “Some of the measures are visible to our shoppers – like our trained public safety officers and our relationships with local law enforcement – while others are not.”
Wilke declined to describe all components of the mall’s security plan because he did not want to compromise the mall’s strategies or those of its individual retailers.
He did say the mall focuses on building close relationships with retailers and law enforcement to stop shoplifters – 1 in 11 Americans, according to the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention.
Research done by the nonprofit organization, which analyzes shoplifting trends, found that more than $13 billion in merchandise is stolen each year by 27 million shoplifters.
That’s more than $35 million in stolen goods per day, the organization reported, adding that only about 10 million people were arrested for such crimes in the past five years.
No store is immune. The association reports that all types of retailers have shoplifting, including department stores, specialty shops, supermarkets, drugstores, discount stores, music stores, convenience stores and thrift shops.
A review of local police reports in the past year shows that shoplifters have tried to steal cosmetics, clothing, jewelry, small electronics, candy and groceries by removing price tags, hiding items in underwear or swapping old clothes for new accessories in dressing rooms.
“Notify the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office of any suspicious persons or vehicles,” McDaniel urged retailers. “Large bags and large purses are always something to monitor, because merchandise can easily be slipped into each.”