Greg Ellifritz, who's a police officer, firearms instructor and blogger, has some interesting news on a new crime threat in some upmarket neighborhoods. Here's an excerpt.
Recently I’ve noticed a trend among the shoplifters I’ve arrested. They all have a huge number of department store gift cards in their wallets and purses. Most of the shoplifters I arrest have between five and twenty gift cards in their possession at the time of arrest.
I assumed that these cards had been stolen. When I started asking my prisoners about how they got all the cards, a few were remarkably candid. They don’t steal them. They use the cards to get fast cash to buy drugs. Here’s how they work their scam.
The shoplifters will steal clothing or other merchandise from department stores. They often pick baby clothes because they are relatively expensive and smaller in size (thus easier to hide).
The shoplifters don’t keep the clothes or sell them in second-hand stores. Instead, they take them to a different store and return them. Since they don’t have receipts, the store gives them credit (in the form of a store gift card) instead of cash.
You may not have noticed, but a lot of grocery stores now have a machine near the front entrance where you can exchange store gift cards for cash. The machines take a percentage off the top as profit (3%-15% depending on the machine) and then give the person the remainder of the balance in cash.
Criminals take the gift cards they get from their stolen goods and turn them into cash (usually for heroin) at one of these machines. They use different stores and multiple (usually stolen) ID cards to redeem the cards so they don’t arouse suspicion.
One of the larger grocery stores in my city has recently added one of these gift card-for-cash machines. It has attracted quite a few criminals and thieves. I spoke with a manager at the store and he has noticed a change in the store’s clientele since the addition of the gift card machine. When I asked the manager about the machine, his comment was “I hate that machine. It draws people into our store who really don’t belong here.” The criminal element attracted by the machine then steals things from the grocery store as well.
Why is this important to you? I assume that most of my readers aren’t looking for easier ways to steal things or get money for drugs.
It affects you because you have to buy groceries. If your grocery store has a gift card-for-cash machine, it WILL attract a criminal element that wouldn’t otherwise frequent the store. If the criminals are there while you shop, you are more likely to be victimized. These criminals are the same people who will also steal from a person like you if given the opportunity.
There's more at the link. Worthwhile reading, as are most of his articles at Active Response Training's Web site. Recommended.
This just goes to show: you can never take your security for granted. You may be perfectly well aware of, and prepared for, the routine threats in your area . . . then a store will install one of these cash-for-gift-card machines and the risks change almost immediately. Situational awareness is of paramount importance - as much as, if not more so than, the means to defend yourself if necessary.