September 30, 2020
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Focusing on a serious rise in massive retail theft in neighborhood stores across the state, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes and Special Agent Chris Walden presented the new Attorney General’s Office Crimes Against Statewide Economy (CASE) Task Force at the Utah Organized Retail Crime Association (UORCA) Annual Conference yesterday.
These crimes are on the rise, costing retailers –and consumers — millions of dollars every month. The massive shoplifting organizations are a new breed of crime: one that requires a unified and single-minded focus in our state.
Organized retail crime involves two or more persons cooperating to illegally obtain retail merchandise in substantial quantities through both theft and fraud as part of an unlawful commercial enterprise. These crimes have severely impacted Utah businesses who have experienced retail theft from their stores. In some cases, these goods were then sold to pawn shops in new, in the box condition.
The Attorney General’s Office believes the key to combatting these crimes is through public/private partnerships, with success dependent on the ability to work together. Therefore, the Attorney General’s has partnered with several companies, federal partners, and local agencies including the Utah Department of Public Safety, to create the CASE Task Force. CASE began in August 2020 and is made up of multiple agencies consisting of local and state investigators.
CASE has already onboarded 20 complex organized retail crime cases, varying from single individuals committing large scale offenses, to traveling groups of people committing large scales theft and fraud, causing a loss of millions of dollars.
Organized retail crime has often been described as a “victimless crime”, however, these crimes impact businesses in Utah and across the nation. Last year, the Attorney General’s Office filed charges against a manager of West Jordan Xtreme Pawn for a continual pattern of buying and selling merchandise with the knowledge that it was likely stolen from various businesses in Utah. Additionally, the owners of Big Dog Pawn & Jewelry entered plea agreements to felony charges after investigations into the pawn shop revealed unlawful activity, including money laundering and receiving stolen property.
Fraudulent schemes are rapidly changing with technology, such as credit skimming, gift cards and fake consumer accounts. In January of this year, the Utah Attorney General’s Office partnered with a local retailer to investigate a consumer fraud scheme where suspects were posing as governments agents, computer servicemen, bail bondsman or IRS Agents, and convinced consumers in Utah to load large sums of money onto gift cards. After the gift cards were loaded, the cards were used to purchase “Closed loop” gift cards like Apple I-tunes gift cards, Nintendo Gift Cards etc. Those “Closed Loop” gift cards were later monetized into cash through various online marketplaces. This fraud scheme created a loss for this retailer of approximately $600,000 over 4 months. These suspects were charged with money laundering, pattern of unlawful activity, and unlawful use of a credit card. The suspects plead guilty to these counts.
The CASE Task Force will monitor secondhand merchants such as pawn shops and online marketplaces; investigate consumer fraud schemes, counterfeit goods, and gambling; train and coordinate efforts with law enforcement; and provide support to law enforcement agencies.
Listen to the presentations below: