Rossen Reports

Tricky thieves target stores during holidays

Dec. 20, 2012 at 10:43 AM ET

'Tis the season for shoplifting, and this year the thieves have some new techniques, costing retailers billions of dollars.

It's not just amateurs anymore. We're talking about professionals: criminals who steal for a living, targeting your favorite stores and, during the busy holiday season, using you as cover to blend in. Wait till you see what they're stealing this year, and how they're doing it.

"It's the most wonderful time of the year"... for criminals. And they're getting crafty, coming in through store ceilings. And getting violent, stabbing a store employee and then leading police on a high-speed chase.

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And their tactics are sneakier than ever. Like the mom in Florida who, investigators say, did "sticker swapping," replacing the labels on $100 Lego sets with labels from cheaper products, stealing a much as $30,000 in a month.

Another con is called "under-ringing." We watched video of guys who looked like they were buying expensive power tools. But police say they were in cahoots with the cashier, who was only pretending to scan everything. They have all pled not guilty.

"Christmas time for thieves is the ultimate time of year," retail crime analyst Johnny Custer told us. "They have a very specific list and a very specific set of merchandise that they're after...a shoplifting list."

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And what's on it is weird. Experts say, high on the list this holiday season is red meat. Police say two men in upstate New York stuffed ribs, steaks and sausages under their clothes and out of the store.

Also on the "shoplifting list" this year: small, easy-to-steal brand names. Oil of Olay; Mach3 razor blades; Prilosec, an acid reducer; and Axe deodorant.

"Why does a thief want deodorant?" we asked.

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"It's easy to offload," Johnny Custer explained. "People always need deodorant, and it's easy for them to sell it for pennies on a dollar."

But how do they steal so much in one trip? That's another trick, using a handbag, duct tape and some aluminum foil.

"The aluminum foil is used to line bags or diaper bags or other products," Custer told us. "It helps to defeat the security systems in the store."

Shoplifters are costing retailers about $12 billion a year -- costs that are ultimately passed on to the consumer. "Prices go up," said Tim Baer, Target's executive vice president. "Our cost of business goes up."

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To fight crime, Target has gone high-tech. Inside an unassuming office building in suburban Minnesota, they've set up a forensic crime lab right out of "CSI" where investigators analyze and enhance surveillance video, and use black powder and lasers to lift fingerprints off products, all to track and bust criminals ripping them off.

"It allows us to gather evidence, work with our local law enforcement partners and build a case that's much more effective," Baer told us.

Another big tactic this season is "return fraud." Criminals buy, say, a video game system. They take it home, tear it apart, rip out all the hardware inside, replace it with junk, and return it for cash. Then they they sell the expensive hardware on the black market.

Experts say we all pay for it with higher prices.

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