Shoplifting is up during the down economy

HOUSTON Shoplifting is one of the most common property crimes and it can be devastating for a store's bottom line. During these tough economic times, suspected thieves are getting sneakier and it's impacting us all.

While some would call shoplifters' actions outrageous, shocking, even appalling, security experts warn this type of behavior at grocery stores and other retailers has become all too common and it's only getting worse.

"The truth of it is, this is based on us working security at these locations, is that it's out of control," said Jeff Moore of Blue Moon Security.

With more people out of work coupled with a weak economy, call it a sign of the times. Just this month, Alvin police arrested Joel Cantu, 41, at a local Kroger store.

"I can admit. I did go to shoplift," said Cantu.

We spoke with Cantu at the Brazoria County Jail where he remains behind bars, charged not with theft, but aggravated robbery.

"I went over to the meat department and grabbed some meat and put it in my pants," said Cantu.

He says he's homeless and jobless, and he claims he's never shoplifted before. However, that can change when you're hungry.

"You just set your mind to do what you are going to do," Cantu said. "It's survival, you know what I'm saying?"

Investigators say a store clerk spotted Cantu stuffing the meat into his pants and eventually confronted him. Cantu was armed with a knife.

"I put it to his neck and said, 'Let me go.' During the struggle I scratched him," said Cantu.

From closed circuit television and electronic surveillance to loss prevention and uniformed guards, grocery stores and other retailers devote an enormous amount of time and money to try and prevent their merchandise from being stolen.

Between patron and employee thefts, some stores on average lose as much as $15,000 a month in inventory.

"When people are stealing from the grocery stores or any store from that matter, in the end you and I the consumer, are the ones who end up paying the price," said Moore.

While it's not something the grocery industry likes to talk about, a spokesperson from Kroger acknowledged the issue and told us, "Shoplifting affects all retailers and is a phenomenon that is directly related to the current economy. Retailers across the board tend to see more theft in an economic downturn. At Kroger, we review security procedures and protocols on a regular basis to ensure up-to-date practices are in place and alter routines to deter thieves."

As Cantu sits in jail, waiting for his case to go to court, he had this message for any would-be shoplifters.

"It ain't worth it because people could really get hurt, someone could really get hurt," said Cantu.
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