HOUSTON — Don’t call it shoplifting.
It looks similar but this kind of professional stealing is known as organized retail crime.
“It’s a tremendous problem,” said Jac Brittain, editorial director of Loss Prevention Magazine. “What they’ll do is target specific products. In a lot of cases, they’ll have shopping lists of things that they’ve been told to steal.”
It’s happening at big-name stores and thieves aren’t even hiding it. Popular items being swiped are clothing, makeup, laundry detergent, diapers and power tools.
Brittain said the rings are organized from top to bottom. The person who does the stealing is known as a “booster.” They will turn around and get the stolen merchandise to someone known as a “fence.” The “fence” does the reselling and it’s mostly online.
The crimes are growing around the country.
The National Retail Federation ranks cities where it happens the most and Houston comes in at #6.
There’s a case going through the court system now in Harris County. It originally happened in October 2020. Precinct 5 deputy constables worked with the Texas Department of Public Safety in the Katy area.
Pct. 5 Constable Ted Heap’s office recorded what they found at the house on Hoveden Drive in the Nottingham Country subdivision. Inside, it was stacked floor to ceiling with more than $1 million worth of merchandise from Home Depot. It even had an elevator lift to move heavy items between floors.
“He has bedroom space where he sleeps and a place to cook in the kitchen,” Constable Heap said in 2020. “The rest of it is strictly storage for stolen merchandise.” Investigators say they tracked a trailer full of stolen items from Colorado to homeowner Steven Skarritt’s house.
Skarritt was arrested and faces charges for drugs, money laundering, and engaging in criminal activity.
KHOU 11 News found him at home earlier this month. He wouldn’t say much without his lawyer but confirms that his online store was shut down and he did nothing wrong.
“I have receipts from everything I bought from him,” said Skarritt. “He was traveling around all the Home Depot stores buying and they were following him.”
“Were they buying or were they stealing?” asked reporter Tiffany Craig.
“They were buying,” he responded. “They were using my tax identification number.”
Skarritt did show KHOU 11 News that the elevator lift has since been sealed off. He’s due in court in December.
Cases like Skarritt’s and the whole topic are of great interest to the Texas Retailers Association.
“It’s just up to law enforcement and the retailers to, first of all, prevent it and second when it happens to actually prosecute the thieves,” Brittain said.
In the end, it’s consumers that end up paying higher prices because retailers are losing tens of billions of dollars a year to organized retail crime.