The Christmas season sees stores packed with shoppers looking for gifts to give to loved ones. This year is different. Countless news stories of mass shoplifting by brazen and highly organized “smash-and-grab” groups coordinated online are featured on a near-nightly basis. Staff watches the multiple crimes, helpless in attempting to stop the theft.

The trend has even spawned a category. “Chanel girls” are entering stores and stealing the brand’s products to the tune of thousands of dollars. When staff confronts them, they show or use pepper spray to escape. As with many other stores, policies tell them to “stand down” and allow the theft to occur.

Statistics tell the story

An annual survey by the National Retail Federation reveals store managers are seeing the mass theft problems increasing. The study shows that 78 percent of respondents said organized retail crime has risen in priorities as opposed to the previous year.

In response, in-store security and law enforcement are beefing up their presence to prevent massive amounts of theft. Many are coordinating stakeouts near stores to combat the ongoing problem, using unmarked police cars. They admit that it is labor-intensive and time-consuming at best.

Can new laws help?

A new federal law, the INFORM Act, was passed, countering coordinated criminal activities by requiring social media platforms to provide data on high-volume sellers. The objective is to identify the fencing of stolen merchandise on Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp to gather data on high-volume sellers.

In addition, individual states passed their own legislation to counter mass theft, increasing spending on investigations with the blessing of law enforcement. Interagency task forces are also tracking these criminal enterprises to combat this type of theft.

Shoplifting is a serious crime that often comes down to a misunderstanding. Forgetting to pay for an item can happen to anyone. However, that mistake can lead to serious and damaging criminal charges.