Retail theft on the rise in SWFL; how legislators are working to protect consumers from stolen goods

Reporter: Dannielle Garcia Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:
Collection of posts about retail theft from Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers.

People steal almost everything from designer clothing, baby formula and even razors from Southwest Florida stores. Authorities say thieves do it most of the time to sell the stolen goods.

It’s becoming a matter of routine at Crime Stoppers. The hunt for thieves like the suspect who ripped off $7,000 worth of stuff from Walmart.

A man caught on camera after deputies say he stole from a Walmart. Credit: Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers

He stole multiple TVs, speakers, home theatre projectors, and lots of baby formula.

These women got away with $4,000 worth of liquor.

(Credit: FMPD)

Other hot items include high-end beauty products. Ulta is a favorite among thieves.

This post from Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers says two women got away with $5,000 worth of perfume.

If you think retail theft is soaring, you’re right, and in the end, you pay for it.

“At the end of the day, they’re going to jack up the prices of the items that are stolen. So ultimately, it trickles back to the consumer,” said Trish Routte with Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers.

Routte puts out the posts that ask for your help locating the many thieves across our area. She said there is a reason people are stealing and stealing specific items.

Routte said, “so one group typically works for a larger conglomerate where they’re literally giving shopping lists and say, okay, we’re looking for perfume, we’re looking for baby formula, and then they steal those items and bring them back to a source.”

That source sells them online at a very attractive price to buyers.

“They’re selling them on Facebook Marketplace. They’re selling them at a flea market. They’re selling them out of the backseat of their cars in their neighborhoods. The same thing goes with baby formula. You know, that’s a pretty pricey thing that the young moms need, and if you can get it for a fraction of the price, you probably know that it’s stolen, but if you need it, you’re probably going to buy it,” Routte said.

CVS said they experienced a 300% increase in retail theft since the pandemic began.

The Florida Retail Federation said 70% of our retailers reported an uptick in thefts last year.

Two possible reasons are people being squeezed for cash and resorting to crime and stores having fewer employees watching the shelves.

President and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation Scott Shalley said, “I think they’re both contributing factors. And, you know, this is a case where retail workers are not police officers. We do have our retailers investing a lot in fighting organized retail crime, they do help support our law enforcement partners at every turn. But the frontline worker is not in a position to make an apprehension, and particularly in a case where it’s aggressive crime.”

A new bill working its way through the state legislature. Senate Bill 944 would require eBay and other middlemen between remote sellers and buyers to verify identity and contact information for anyone who sells more than $20,000 a year on a platform.

Senator Dennis Baxley is sponsoring the bill.

“If somebody’s selling something, one new item in a box on an online platform, it certainly makes sense. Sometimes you have something, you know, one, if you’ve got 30 products that are in the box brand new, that’s a little suspicious. So the legislation is designed to collect a little information about that seller, and really create a better avenue to understanding where the products came from and, and cut off that out for anonymous sales,” said Shalley.

All the accused thieves in this story are out there. If you recognize any of them you can call Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS (8777). You may be eligible for a cash reward.

Copyright ©2023 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.