TAMPA — Amid the retail feeding frenzy of the holiday shopping season lurk those who would spoil the fun by stealing merchandise and identities or passing phony money.
Although retailers welcome the throng of shoppers into their stores, many of which have been adorned for weeks with Christmas decorations, they should know that among their customers will be crooks and thieves.
That’s why law enforcement began offering crime-prevention seminars in November for businesses. The most recent one earlier this month drew more than 40 local store managers, owners, security officials and cashiers.
The two-hour presentation was the third annual event and is designed to help retailers prevent losses from thieves during the busiest shopping time of the year.
Tampa police officers and U.S. Secret Service agents talked about trends in retail theft and gave tips on how to spot counterfeit bills and ways to safeguard against credit-card fraud.
What Ron Stracke took away from the seminar was how easy it is for thieves to steal credit-card information and identities.
“Credit cards are a big part of my business,” said the owner of Cycle Sport Concepts on North Dale Mabry Highway near West Kennedy Boulevard.
Stealing bikes from his shop isn’t easy, but the expensive gadgets that go on them are easier for thieves to grab. GPS systems cost about $1,000 each, and he now has them locked up in theft-proof display cases.
Tampa police Officer Usilia Emilione outlined some of the more common theft schemes, including the distraction technique. She said the gambit is simple: One person distracts a clerk while a partner pockets the goods. She said a recent distraction theft at the International Plaza resulted in the loss of an $80,000 diamond ring from a display case that was left unlocked for a few moments.
“And just like that,” she said, “eighty grand is gone.”
She said distraction thieves typically target jewelry and smaller items such as sunglasses or electronics.
She said locked display cases should be opened only when clerks are standing right there.
“Every time you open something,” she said, “you should lock it right back up.”
Another growing trend is theft of credit card information from skimmers, small devices that are secretly attached to card scanners inside stores and outside, like at gas pumps or remote ATM machines. Personal information that is encoded on the strip on the back of credit cards can be stolen during normal business transactions, she said.
Some skimmers store the stolen information and are retrieved later and the information transferred to other fake credit cards. Some wireless skimmers have the ability to transmit the information in real time to a device a short distance away, she said.
Emilione urged business mangers and owners to check their cash registers and make sure no illegal devices are there.
Another precaution is to position video cameras in locations that show faces. Having a camera on the ceiling really doesn’t help in identifying thieves, she said.