Based on CCTV footage taken from retail stores nationwide, the “family-like” groups of between three and seven people have been moving from place to place pilfering items which can be disposed of easily.
Powdered milk tops the list of stolen items, along with tea, coffee and Milo packets, chocolates and toiletries.
The theft of powdered milk is so rampant that some supermarkets have placed the items behind locked glass counters.
shoplifting The milk and other loot are believed to be sold off cheaply to ready buyers and, in some cases, sundry shops.
Members of the group would come in together but separate when they are inside a store.
Some would select products to be stolen while others would act as lookouts or decoys.
They would then gather in a quiet area to remove the security tags and conceal the stolen items in bags or within loose clothing.
In smaller stores, they would try to distract the cashier or sales promoters while the others – usually females – try to hide as many items as possible under their clothes.
They usually get away with the thefts because supermarket workers are less suspicious of families shopping in a group.
But when they are caught red-handed, members of these groups have shown their violent side by pulling out knives or even beating up store workers before fleeing.
As there have already been several cases of workers being assaulted and threatened, staff have been advised not to put up a fight.
Retailers interviewed said the syndicates were different from the usual shoplifters because they worked in family-like groups and only targeted specific items.
Most shoplifters operate alone, steal on impulse and tend to take cheaper stuff such as stationery.
These thieves have been hitting at least one of the Mydin chain of hypermarket’s 148 stores nationwide daily.
The rate was 0.5% two years ago.
“The losses created by these syndicates can total up to RM30mil a year. Not only is this happening every day, but these people are also getting more aggressive when caught,” he said.
The company has installed more CCTVs in stores, with as many as 16 for a 457.2 sq m store.
A Tesco hypermarket spokesperson said pilfering was a problem but its stores had in-house detectives to monitor high-loss areas.
The company has also invested in product protection such as security tags and CCTVs.
Some retailers, including Mydin, have no choice but to pass on the losses to consumers but others like Giant are absorbing the cost.
Malaysian Retailer-Chains Association (MRCA) president Datuk Nelson Kwok said members want to have a dialogue with the police to discuss ways to work together to catch the culprits.
Federal CID Director Comm Datuk Seri Mohd Bakri Mohd Zinin said police were aware of the rackets.
“Most of the group members are locals and they steal because of the thrill,” he said.
He was, however, unable to provide statistics, as police do not have a specific category for shoplifting in stores, which are categorised as “theft in buildings”.
– The Star