Retailers in the Lower Mainland are seeing an increase in the kind of sophisticated fencing operation revealed October 15 during a Vancouver Police Department press conference, according to the head of loss prevention at B.C.'s biggest drugstore chain.
Organizers of the retail theft operation used drug-addicted people to do the actual shoplifting, police alleged, then sold the merchandise through a convenience store located in Surrey. Police seized over $100,000 in stolen property, including items like toothbrushes, razors and over the counter medication.
There has been an overall increase in retail crime across Western Canada and that the crime is becoming increasingly more organized, said Tony Hunt, general manager of loss prevention at London Drugs.
Hunt said this type of crime increases the risk of violence towards store employees and puts public safety at risk because products are often not stored properly before being resold.
“It’s often kept in poor conditions and sometimes repackaged,” he said. “When it makes its way back to the consumer, they really can’t be sure how it was stored.”
Large retailers often gather their own evidence of sophisticated fencing operations by conducting surveillance, which they will then hand off to the police, Hunt said. Retailers either hire private investigators, or use their own in-house security staff to gather evidence.
The Surrey fencing operation used what looked like an ordinary convenience store as a front for the stolen goods, police allege. Hunt said consumers should be wary of deals that look too good to be true or when merchandise looks out of place, for instance, a Laundromat selling discounted cheese.
Retailers have noticed an increase in fencing operations in the Lower Mainland, Hunt said, noting the fake store gambit is fairly common. At times, goods have been shipped outside of Canada to countries where there is a lot of counterfeiting and Canadian-originated goods are more highly trusted.
“The police and in particular the Vancouver police have been very active over the last three years in shutting down these fencing operations and holding them accountable through either criminal charges or finding them in contravention of their licensing," Hunt said, "because they’re essentially operating a second hand store without a proper license.”