Article for Medill: ‘Tis the season

Christmas – ‘tis the season of sharing and caring, giving and receiving, robbing and stealing.

Skokie police will be out in greater numbers at the Old Orchard mall to help deal with the usual surge in retail thefts during the holiday season, Sgt. Paul Kruszynksi of the Skokie Police Department said Thursday.

He said the rise in thefts at the mall is the related to the increased number of shoppers – the more people in the mall, the more likely it is some of them will steal. Three arrests for retail theft at various Old Orchard stores occurred this week, according to police reports.

On Tuesday Skokie police arrested Velia Roman, 32, of 2600 W. Thomas St., Chicago, on charges of stealing clothes from Marshall Field’s. The same day, Joanna Bujakowska, 38, of 5528 W. Eddy St., Chicago, was arrested on charges of stealing a top and a skirt from the same store.

On Wednesday Skokie police arrested Chou Duk Yun, 69, of 9238 Gross Point Rd., on charges of stealing a hat from Saks Fifth Avenue. He told officers he tried to pay for the hat, but the store wouldn’t let him, according to the report.

“We get everything – people using stolen credit cards, stealing Prada purses, whatever they can get their hands on,” said Robert Shaw, Loss Prevention Manager of Saks Fifth Avenue in Old Orchard mall. “They look for the easy mark.”

He said the increased number of shoppers makes it more difficult to detect theft. In response Saks increased its number of undercover security guards to about nine after the Thanksgiving holiday. At the end of the Christmas season, the number of guards will be reduced. He added that high numbers of undercover security guards are used at random times throughout the year.

Store theft isn’t always petty.

Sometimes sophisticated groups of thieves swarm Saks to steal large quantities of merchandise by using distraction. The “Irish Travelers” is one group from Tennessee that targeted Saks during the summer and last winter, Shaw said. He expects them to strike again this winter.

He said the group includes about 30 people, mostly women from 13 to 50 years old, who enter a store simultaneously to make it difficult for security guards to watch each one of them.

Other theft techniques include lining a shopping bag with foil and putting stolen merchandise in the bag, Shaw said. The foil prevents security alarms from sounding when a thief passes through them with the stolen merchandise.

Besides stealing, the group gets refunds on merchandise stolen from other stores and occasionally makes a legitimate purchase, Shaw said.

To counter teams of thieves, Saks security officers turn up the volume of their walkie-talkies and discuss the presence of the thieves, Shaw said. The thieves, hearing the officers’ conversation over the loud walkie-talkies, then may curb their stealing because of the impression they are being watched closely.

Stealing merchandise worth less than $150 can result in fines to the thief of up to $2,500 and one year in jail – for the first time. The second time someone steals merchandise worth less than $150, he or she could spend one to three years in prison and be fined up to $25,000.

Stealing merchandise worth more than $150 can result in fines up to $25,000 and prison sentences of two to five years.

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