Overview of Boosters

Boosters working in groups rather than alone often have at least one member of the group act as a lookout who scouts for employees, plainclothes security officers, or cameras. These lookouts may create diversions or distract employees to facilitate the work of the booster’s actually stealing the merchandise.

To help prevent thieves from stealing these goods, many retailers place electronic detection tags on merchandise. Boosters often circumvent detection systems by cutting off or melting the tags, covering the tags in foil or concealing the merchandise in foil-lined bags (often referred to as “magic” bags), or lifting goods over the antennas of the electronic detection systems. In some instances, boosters take shopping bags directly from the store, fill them with merchandise, and walk out of the store, appearing as though they are carrying purchased goods. Store employees may be less likely to stop and question boosters carrying shopping bags from the store because they incorrectly assume that the merchandise has indeed been paid for.

In addition, boosters do not always steal merchandise from retailers during business hours. Some may hide in stores and wait for all employees to leave before removing large amounts of goods through emergency exits. Others conduct “smash-and-grab” burglaries, in which they steal trucks and vans to ram through store walls and windows, load the vehicles with merchandise, and drive away.

ORC groups employ a range of methods to illegally obtain retail merchandise. Most commonly, professional shoplifters known as “boosters” steal multiple quantities of targeted items that can be readily sold to “fences,” who in turn resell the goods through legal or illegal channels for financial gain. In some cases, fences provide itemized sheets to boosters indicating specific products desired and the amount that will be paid for them. According to retailers, boosters tend to target products that are small, concealable, and of relatively high value. Some frequently stolen products retailers identified include razor blades, diabetic test strips, infant formula, teeth whitening products, cosmetics, and over-the-counter medications, such as Prilosec. One common method employed by boosters is to conceal merchandise in customized bags that have been modified to help circumvent store security systems. Boosters also often work in groups, commonly utilizing lookouts, distraction methods, and, in some cases, sophisticated hand signs to communicate. Other methods boosters employ include practices such as box stuffing, return fraud, and ticket switching. ORC activity may also include some level of collusion with store employees, who may participate in theft themselves or could assist thieves by such actions as leaving doors unlocked or providing alarm codes or other security information. According to retailers, boosters routinely target multiple stores a day, frequently hitting retail stores in shopping malls or near major highways to increase potential targets and allowing a quick escape route (GAO).

Levels of Boosters

  1. Level one booster typically stays local and is often drug-dependent.
  2. Level two and
  3. Level three boosters often travel state to state, hitting 20-25 stores a day.

Gary Weisbecker runs the Walgreens Organized Retail Crime Division and is helping crack down on crime issues in Connecticut. Weisbecker worked for the NYPD for many years, cracking down on organized crime. ORC individuals and rings make as much as $300-$500,000 a year.

He said the boosters sell the product to the fences. “They clean up the product, make sure it looks like it’s a legitimate source, and it works its way back into the retail chain,” he said. They’ll use lighter fluid or windshield fluid to remove retail stickers and even pay competent package counterfeiters to make the product look legit.

Boosters will be given shopping lists of what’s needed for the fences. “They’ll be told I’m good on formula, but we need Prilosec to turn,” said Weisbecker. “They’ll steal $400 here, go to another Connecticut store, do another $400 there … They know what the felony theft level is, so they’ll stay just under it.”

In some cases, the criminals will bring accomplices to distract clerks or customers, or to help guard them so they can swipe the merchandise. They target over-the-counter medications, baby formula, diabetic test strips, teeth whitening strips, batteries, razor blades, gift cards, video games, DVDs, CDs, and other products.

“Fifteen or twenty years ago, the mob raised money through prostitution, loan sharking and gambling. Now they’re able to do it very low risk, he said. “This has grown today to be an epidemic,” Weisbecker said the most frightening part is where the money’s going. “These seemingly smaller thefts are adding up to really big crimes, and we’re tracking that money to some extremely dangerous people,” he said. “We’ve got to do something to stop it.”

The Costs
“In the old days, people would steal something in Trumbull and sell it in New Haven for pennies on the dollar,” said Jones. “But with the advent of the Internet and auction sites out there able to sell it for up to 75 percent of the ticket price (versus 25 percent). The Risk-Reward ratio is now in favor of the criminal.”

Weisbecker said there’s also a health concern. “You look at a lot of the stolen products. Baby formula, diabetic test strips, fast-moving consumer goods,” he said. “You take that diabetic test strip that costs about $100. Now when that’s actually stolen, where’s it being stored? Think it’s being stored in a climate controlled condition? Ninety-nine out of 100 times it’s not. A storage shed high temperatures. So when that eventually gets back into the retail chain, how safe is that product? ” Medicines and baby formula are also being stored improperly. In many cases, expiration dates are being changed to resell more easily.

Tools Boosters Utilize

  • EAS Tag Removal Devices
  • RFID
  • Booster Bags
  • Concealment Clothing
  • UPC Counterfeiting
  • Receipt Counterfeiting
  • Receipt Duplication/Printing
  • Credit Card Encoder/Reader


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