If the allegations are correct, they may well be among the world's most prolific shoplifters. Portland, Ore., police said they have arrested a pair of thieves for allegedly shoplifting some $5 million of merchandise from Safeway stores.
Safeway worked with authorities to arrest Richard Remington, 52, and Angela Evans, 32, on Feb. 15. The grocery chain claims Remington pulled off 103 thefts that were caught on tape at various Safeway stores while Evans was seen 75 times stealing merchandise.
So determined was Safeway to stop the thefts, they authorized a loss prevention officer to place a tracking device on the couple's van, according to The Oregonian.
Remington and Evans, who had been dating for about six months, allegedly stole about $400,000 of merchandise a year from Safeway over the span of several years, according to an affidavit signed by Charles Mickly, deputy district attorney for Multnomah County in Oregon. The district attorney's office charged the two with 24 counts of theft. They have pleaded not guilty. It wasn't clear if they had a lawyer.
Trent Drucker, a loss prevention officer at Safeway, located Remington's van and placed a tracking device on it. He was then able to review video of the shoplifting and determine that they allegedly drove to pawn shops to sell stolen DVDs.
Not all retailers are able to invest months in capturing individual shoplifters, though this case suggests outsized losses for the supermarket chain.
Shoplifters stole $13.7 billion in merchandise in the U.S. from June 2009 to October 2010 according to the Centre for Retail Research in England. Surveying retailers worldwide, shoplifters cost retailers $107.3 billion in that period. The survey included 1,103 of the largest retailers in 42 countries, with $873.8 billion in combined sales.
Joshua Bamfield, who has conducted the "Global Retail Theft Barometer" for the past decade, said global shoplifting has spiked in recent years because of economic downturns across the globe.
The Oregon case may be one of the largest for a single pair of thieves, but organized rings have racked up some audacious amounts, according to law enforcement officials. Here are some of the world's biggest shoplifters:
$100 Million Shoplifting Ring, Florida
In 2008, Florida police arrested 18 people involved in a shoplifting scheme in 11 counties. Police say the crime ring ran for over five years. The Lakeland Ledger reported that the shoplifters allegedly stole between $60 million and $100 million of over-the-counter health and beauty products from hundreds of convenience and grocery stores. Ringleaders then sold the products at warehouses, flea markets and websites, including eBay.
Bamfield said the Florida ring was one of the largest thefts he can recall.
"The McGovernment" Crime Ring, Scotland: $58 million
Police estimate that members of a notorious crime family in Scotland, the McGoverns, had 150 members steal about 100,000 pounds of merchandise daily. In one year, at the current exchange rate, it is possible the group stole $58 million in goods. A BBC Scotland investigation found that professional "steal-to-order" gangs linked with other organized crime commit half of all shoplifting in the United Kingdom.
Cosmetics Down Under, Australia
In 2009, two men were accused of conducting the "biggest shoplifting scam" in Australia's history, according to the Weekend Australian. The accused had stolen cosmetics from various sources worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the newspaper.
DVD thieves, New York: $35 million Authorities in New York sentenced John Makuch to three years in prison in May 2010 for stealing $2,679 worth of DVDs from a Wal-Mart. Makuch was a part of a $35 million shoplifting ring in upstate New York.
Health products, California: $17 million In June 2008, a grand jury in San Jose, Calif. indicted 17 people who were members of a shoplifting ring that made over $17 million from stolen pain relievers, baby formula and other health products. San Jose police and federal agents conducted a two-year sting operation to make the bust.
One major difference between shoplifting in the U.S. and the rest of the world is that employees are the most common shoplifters in the U.S. In the rest of the world, it is usually outside parties who are stealing the goods, rather than employees stealing from "back-of-house" inventory.
Barbara Staib, director of communication with the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, noted that most likely a "staggering" number of shoplifting incidents go undetected and unreported. She said employees are usually caught because they are in stores more often than external thieves. And store managers usually have employees on their radar.
Making sure incidents are detected and punished is important to prevent crime recidivism, she said. The association interviewed 15,000 offenders who shoplifted in 2009 and found that 46 percent of the adult offenders and 40 percent of juvenile offenders admitted they had shoplifted prior to that incident. The association estimates that retailers lost over $1,800 per offender before they were caught in 2009.
"It's not just a pack of gum," said Staib. "Imagine thousands of packs of gum."