A crook's-eye view: Black Friday in San Francisco

Getting too caught up in post-Thanksgiving deals might leave an opening for thievery.

Dear Black Friday,

I send you this letter with great affection. As a veteran crook, I anticipate your annual chaos like a child dashing into Toys R Us. Shoppers pack the sidewalks, carrying all sorts of wonderful loot I can snatch. They fill up department stores, forming a human shield so I may pocket items. And they leave just-purchased gifts in their cars, perfect for a window-smashing fiend like me!

But shoplifters aren’t just grubby thieves like me and Lindsay Lohan. About 70 percent of folks who shoplift do not plan to steal before going into a store, says Barbara Staib of the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention.

“They’re opportunistic,” Staib noted, adding that thieves justify robbing the big and profitable stores.

Some of us, however, are old pros. A shoplifting association survey revealed that one in 11 people walking into a store either shoplift regularly or have done so before, Staib said. So it’s no shocker that an influx of shoppers creates a spike in thefts, she said.

As a Powell Street Walgreens manager put it: “When you have an increase in sales, the shrinkage comes along with it.”

Big stores, little stores — I love cutting into your bottom line! And these days, I can use the excuse that I’m a member of the 99 percent and am robbing the 1 percent — you know, like Robin Hood.

But there are ways to stop us princes of thieves. I see a potential victim when a shopper is carrying around heaps of shopping bags. Lock them up in the trunk of your car before heading to another store, advises San Francisco police Officer Albie Esparza.

“And if you’re going to make large purchases, try to make those last,” Esparza said.

There’s no need to walk around with big-ticket items; that will only make me salivate.

And make sure I don’t find any gifts of my own inside your car. Esparza says it is common for burglars to break a window just to get at change. If I’m lured by nickels and dimes, I will likely find other valuables you have stashed in the trunk or under seats.

Sometimes I’ll even case a parking garage looking for cars to burglarize. If you have loot from Tiffany’s or Best Buy, it is a simple smash and grab.

If I don’t find anything good in cars, merchants — particularly those without security guards — should avoid displaying items near the door unless they are locked down, Esparza said. And don’t try to wrestle back an item from a crook. I certainly would fight you if you tried, and I might very well be armed.<br>
“We always want to remind people that no property is worth someone’s life,” Esparza said.

The best deterrent for merchants? Paying attention to great customer service, said Trevor Thomas, the loss-prevention manager for Old Navy’s flagship store on Market Street.

After all, if you are pleasant and attentive with potential shoplifters, they could decide not to rob you, Thomas said. At the same time, you also will have your eye on them, he said.

Happy Shopping,

Your local holiday crook


A shoplifter’s holiday

I don’t want stocking stuffers; I need items I can hawk on the street for cash. Where do I find them? Walgreens. A Powell Street store manager, who wished to remain anonymous, said shoplifting increases on Black Friday since more folks are shopping. Small items such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant and soaps are among the popular targets.

Nothing quenches a robber’s thirst like loot — or whiskey. Downtown spirits seller Zain’s knows a thing or two about shoplifters. But the problem is not unique to Black Friday, according to a clerk who requested anonymity. New Year’s Day is a liquor store’s version of Black Friday.

Clothes are bulkier than many shoplifted items. Thankfully, stores will be packed with people, creating confusion. But that’s not necessarily good for thieves, said Trevor Thomas, loss prevention manager for Old Navy on Market Street. “They want to enter undetected and leave without confrontation,” he said. That might be hard with all those people around.

Street items
Streets will be packed today, with shoulder-to-shoulder shoppers bumping into each other. They might not notice a missing wallet. My items of choice, of course, are handheld electronics — cellphones, laptops, e-readers, et al. Police say not a day goes by without one of those items getting swiped. SFPD Officer Albie Esparza says the added loot on Black Friday is holiday gifts. With so many people carrying around bags, why not?

Should I rip a gold chain off someone’s neck or steal it from a jewelry store? With gold prices on the rise, why not get in on the bling? Danelle Lateur, a 13-year saleswoman at Union Square’s Shreve & Co., knows how to spot someone like me. “It’s not the person you’re serving, it’s the person behind him walking through,” she said. Such “grab and run” robberies are common in jewelry store thefts.

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