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tv   Boosting for Billion  MSNBC  May 12, 2012 12:00pm-1:00pm PDT

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to make sure that your contractor's license is in good standing, check with officials in your state. i'm meredith vieira, thanks for watching. they look like average shoppers, but they are not. >> every day, every hour that they are opened, it can happen. >> look closely. in any retail store and you're bound to find them. boosters. >> i would make in one day in this area like 3,500. >> work-a-day professional shoplifters, stealing thousands of dollars within minutes. >> in between $35 billion and $50 billion a year is lost in the retail industry to organized retail theft. >> armed with their own investigators, big business is fighting back. >> just because you're not apprehended when you come to a walgreens store, don't think you're not going to get apprehended. >> by working with law enforcement to hunt them down.
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>> police department, we have a search warrant. >> msnbc undercover investigates, "boosting for billions." >> two men enter the grocery store not to shop but to steal. in just five minutes, they will make off with $1,500 worth of merchandise. today scenes like these are playing out with ever greater frequency in stores all across the country. here a man is stuffing $500 worth of clothes down his
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trousers. and here a group of three women nonchalantly pile $3,300 worth of cosmetics into a trash can. these are not casual shoppers. they are members of highly organized rings of thieves known as boosters, and they're walking away with billions of dollars in stolen merchandise every year. >> this first item here is the first item recovered. jerry biggs heads walgreens crime division. jerry, how do you define between shoplifters and boosters? >> shoplifters are shoplifting for their own use. they are not doing it to sell it on the street. they are doing it for something that they need. >> but a booster is a job. >> a booster wakes up in the morning, and that's what they're out to do. >> today boosting is on the rise, carving out a larger and
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larger chunk of the nation's economy every year. last year, boosters cost states $1 billion in lost tax revenue. how much money do boosters then, would you say, on average, cost retailers? >> between $30 billion and $40 billion a year. if you add up all of the property crime, auto thefts, burglaries and put it all together, it does not total. >> the items targeted by boosters will vary from store to store. here at a big box retailer, a pair of thieves make off with two shopping carts full of electronics. here a crew of three stuff their shopping bags and head for the exit without paying, and here a door greeter struggles in vain to prevent a thief from fleeing with a bucket of boosted dvds. often working in groups, boosters steal with impunity. these women clear an entire
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shelf of baby formula before g out the exit. another pair of boosters help themselves to two aisles of over-the-counter drugs before slipping past busy cashiers. boosting has exploded over the last few years, and that's because organized criminals have discovered that shoplifting can be very lucrative without the risk involved in other crimes like drug dealing or burglary. >> burglary is a felony in every state. every day in the united states, if i go in your garage, take your bicycle, it's a felony offense. if i go to walmart in wisconsin and i take five bicycles, each for $100, it's a misdemeanor. >> from flea markets to mom and pop stores to mainstream auction sites, organized crime rings resell stolen goods to unsuspecting customers in search of a bargain. no overhead, thieves bank billions. to understand how rings operate, walgreens gave us unprecedented access to their highly experienced investigators.
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just steps away from san francisco's world famous cable cars, tourists revel in the sights and sounds of market street unaware that they are wandering along the front lines of walgreens battle against boosters. >> in this town, it's every day. it's every day, every hour that they are open, it's happening in this store. >> steve chase is walgreens lead investigator for loss prevention in northern california. >> you can see some of the types of items we have to lock up. >> he gives us a tour of the retail chain's market street location. >> these are your over-the-counter pain relievers. >> it's a cross between a typical walgreens and ft. knox. >> you can see another example where toothbrushes have to be locked up in this particular store. in this particular store, clearly you saw a lot of merchandise that was moving,
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with you not being sold, including things like coffee. >> everything from coffee to underwear to bars of soap is under lock and key here, forcing the retailer to walk a fine line between security and customer service. >> walgreens wants to have self-service stores, where customers can come in and pick up merchandise, read the package, and make decisions on what they want to buy. >> we were surprised to learn that the hottest items to boost are everyday necessities, like orange fusion razors and crest white strips. >> in oakland, in the san francisco, the san jose, they're fortifying stores a little bit more which is an inconvenience to our customers and frankly, is something that we as a company do not like having to do but we know it's a necessity. >> and if to punctuate the retailers distress, the store manager stopped our interview to tell us that a man had just come in and walking in the store, helping himself to handfuls of merchandise while we were recording just one aisle over. >> basically, what happened was the individual was at the front
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register removing the reading glasses from the counter, placing them in the bag. that individual got two, four, six of them. individual came and grabbed one of these items, shavers, and placed them under his arm. walked around the store, didn't pay for the merchandise, exited the store, and now he's on the sidewalk. >> our cameras carefully followed the man out the store onto the street, where the booster waved and happily showed us his newly acquired consumer goods. >> welcome to san francisco. thank you. good-bye. >> we followed him and were shocked to watch just how quickly he was able to sell his stolen goods. he's got the merchandise right there in a white bag. that's a deal going down right there. >> just because you're not apprehended when you go to a walgreens store, don't think you're not going to get apprehended. we come looking for you. i thoug, it's just too hard."
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as a walgreens investigator gave us a tour of one of their high crime stores, a man two aisles over helped himself to six pairs of reading glasses and a shaver. our cameras followed the thief out of the store and onto the street, where we watched to see what he would do with the stolen merchandise. in matter of 30 seconds, we watched and filmed as the booster made two transactions to two different men in exchange for cash. what none of the men realized is that undercover investigators have been monitoring their elicit activities for months as part of an ongoing sting operation between local police and retailers. today officers don't arrest the men because they are gathering evidence for a larger case. >> boosters in san francisco
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really tend to be homeless people, people that are using street drugs, kind of disadvantaged people. and really what is happening is the ones that are buying up the stolen merchandise, they're actually taking advantage of these people. >> investigators typically classify boosters into three categories, based upon their methods of operation and the dollar amounts they steal. >> level one booster is typically a person dependent on narcotics. level two is relatively about the same thing but they have transportation. >> and what is a level three booster? >> a level three booster is somebody who might travel off like a teen usually do 10,000 to 20,000 a day. >> so they are typically working for somebody else? >> right. they're working for a cent.
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>> define cent. >> that's a person that buys stolen goods. we divide those into three levels. >> it sounds like a very elaborate situation. >> that's why it's so successful. >> and police say it is the fences, the men and women who buy and sell stolen goods that represent the biggest threat to retailers. >> we are down here on market. i think we have one deal going down. >> just steps away from the walgreens, an undercover investigator, who asked not to be filmed, pointed out the numerous fences busy making deals out in the open. >> so he walks up to the fence, open up the bag, shows them what's in the bag and they say they want it or they don't. if that person wants it, then they'll put the merchandise in a separate location or sometimes they will hand it over to them and then the cash is transacted. >> on one particular stakeout, this investigator documented no fewer than 70 such transactions into a two-hour time frame. >> hang on. >> here the investigator spots
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two individuals lingering at a bus stop and her cop sense tells her something is up. she recognizes one of the men from an ongoing investigation. >> over by the newspaper stand and the bus stop, the guy leaning down, he's got some merchandise there in a white bag. he's looking at it. the guy in the backpack. there's a deal going on right there. see the guy taking off his backpack now? basically they are transferring the merchandise to these backpacks. whatever he doesn't get rid of it will go somewhere else. once his backpack is completely full, he will leave or have somebody pick up that backpack and give him a new backpack. >> these low level fences with backpacks are basically mules, but investigators must follow them to see who they are selling to. it can be a difficult game to play. >> it's very hard to follow sometimes. it's very hard to follow the merchandise because they are using different modes of transportation, bus, cable car, taxi, bicycle, or on foot.
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the bags are sometimes handed to other individuals at a bus stop and then they take a backpack and take it to a different location. >> it's a nonstop business conducted boldly, out in the open, seemingly undeterred by passers-by. >> there's an individual in the white hat next to the person in the blue coat. those are buyers and they will direct people. >> the buyers generally oversee these street transactions and are usually the ones who dole out cash to the boosters. our cameras make their way closer to the action when this crew finally realizes that they are being taped and attempt to conceal their identity before scattering. not too long after that, we return to the same spot with a hidden camera and find mr. white cap right back in business. >> you're seeing exactly how the flow is going. >> i do. >> this is what will happen all day long.
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>> in many communities where police are stretched thin fighting drugs and violent crimes, boosters can easily slip through the cracks and that's why major retailers, like walgreens, target and others have begun to assemble their own investigative teams to tackle organized retail crime. how aggressive is walgreens about pursuing boosters? >> the retailers are taking it very seriously. we aggressively pursue and recruit individuals that can go after these types of people. >> at drugstores like walgreens, boosters are targeting over-the-cou mainly because they fetch a good price on the black market, and their small size makes them easy to steal in great quantities. >> this entire warehouse is full of stolen items, hot items? >> everything in this warehouse was recovered from somebody who shoplifted it from a store. >> all of this is stolen, boosted merchandise, right? sunglasses? >> boosted sunglasses. >> boxes full.
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i mean, how much is something like this -- >> probably around $40. >> $40? >> like a box of diabetic test strips, that would be $50 just for the small box. >> and you have shelves full. >> they'll take thousands of dollars at a time and take this box and make $15 on this. this is a booster here. this is $17,000, taken in the afternoon by one individual making $5,000 a week. >> and the booster gangs are getting increasingly sophisticated about their methods and means of steals, even using babies as convenient covers for getting merchandise out the door. >> these are booster bags. this one here is a baby's blanket. >> over a stroller, right? >> over a stroller and it's lined in tin foil. >> so they're able to load up the baby stroller? >> it would hold a couple thousand dollars of over-the-counter medications. >> here a man who appeared to be handicapped enters a high-end clothing retail store.
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with sales agents out of sight, the supposedly disabled man helps himself to thousands of dollars of stolen suits with a hidden compartment in his wheelchair. what do you want boosters to know about walgreens? how are you going to go after them? >> we're going to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. i mean, we are not -- just because you're not apprehended when you come to a walgreens store, don't think that you're not going to get apprehended. that intelligence is passed on to us. and then we come looking for you. >> they don't want to go to jail and will cooperate. how much money do you take during a week? >> a thousand.erti help us expand our palette... ...and prices that give us more spring per dollar... ...we can mix the right soil with the right ideas. ...and bring even more color to any garden. more saving. more doing. that's the power of the home depot. brighten mom's big day with colorful
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thank you, mr. davies. it's wednesday morning. a little after 11:00, and just another day in the life of john, professional shoplifter. after five years in the game, john knows a lot about boosting. but what he doesn't know is that this heist will likely be his last. the story begins in the outskirts of san antonio. john and his crew are on a boosting spree. they knock off a cvs and then a walgreens across the street.
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back in the car, across the freeway, they zero in on another walgreens. a getaway driver stays with the car and keeps the motor running while john and a woman head inside and make a bee line for the back of the store. >> they walked in, just like any other customer. you would never suspect them. >> store manager john gonzales is busy helping another customer while the customer is busy helping themselves to more than $1,400 worth of merchandise. >> they were in and out of here within a couple of minutes. they knew exactly what they were going to get. >> the target? high-priced, over-the-counter medications, like prilosec, zantac, pepcid. her bag overflowing with stolen merchandise, the woman heads for the exit and sets off the store's alarm. >> at that moment, she took off running and i came right around the counter and myself and another employee, i was running out the door. at that time i pulled out my cell phone and called 911 and within a few minutes they were
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apprehended. >> inside the getaway car, police discover trash bags full of similar medication. to the trained eye, it's a sure sign that the perpetrators are not your ordinary, everyday shoplifters. >> we are here today to interview john, who is a level three booster. >> walgreens investigator and former new york police detective gary wisebecker, grills the suspect. >> how many times have you actually been arrested for boosting? >> i think five times. >> any type of good criminal case is a result of good intelligence coming in. how many days a week would you work and go out and boost. >> three days a week. >> and a lot of these times these boosters do not want to go to jail and they will cooperate. >> in this case the boosting crew leader's luck has run out. with multiple warrants and previous shopping arrests still outstanding, if convicted, he faces ten years in prison so he's cooperating with investigators. >> tuesday i get on my computer and figure out where i'm going to work wednesday.
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>> the witness provides investigators with the abc's of his operation, including a detailed diagram of his plans for a typical boosting spree. >> wednesday, thursday, i would be at number one because there's a lot of stores around here. >> in this case, the target city is san antonio. john and his crew will cruise the freeways and use wireless internet access to pinpoint store locations near the freeway exits. >> i with make in one day in this area like $3,500. >> $3,500 is the amount john and his crew get for their cents from that day's take. it represents about 25% of the stolen items' retail value. >> saturday and sunday, that is a better day. i used to make like $4,500. >> at their peak, john and his crew were boosting up to $75,000 worth of merchandise each week, and john was rolling in cash. >> how much money would you make in a week? >> in a week?
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i'd say 6,000, 5,000. >> you'd make an average of $5,000, $6,000 in a week? >> yeah. >> cash money? >> cash money. >> where did all of that money go? what did you spend that money on? what did do you with all the money you were making? >> one night on drugs, beer, girls. >> partying? >> yeah. >> now the party is over. and investigators want john to give up the names and locations of the fences who paid him for his stolen goods. he's transported from a county jail to san antonio, his home base of operation. >> here we are, my neighborhood. >> the witness comes from a largely hispanic enclave. where crowds of illegal immigrants regularly huddle on street corners looking for work as day laborers. >> you'll go through the neighborhood and on some of the corner you'll notice what appears to be groups of immigrants, looking for someone to drive by and offering someone labor for the day. >> it is fertile ground for boosting crews looking to recruit new blood. >> we apprehended several
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boosters that said how they got involved in this and these were fairly new to the country and they are undocumented. they said what they were doing is was they were on the corner waiting for work, and someone would come and pick them up and tell them they'd give them $100 to do this boost and steal property. >> it's going to hit you now, you know what i'm saying? >> back at home, the witness begins to have second thoughts cooperating with investigators, and for good reason. many of his associates have gang affiliations, and if they find out that john is an informant, there is a very real danger of violent retribution against john or his family. >> i know you're a little bit worried, i can tell and i will tell you right now, this is the part where you're going to start to get nervous and i will say this much. if you want me to sit in here with you by yourself and you want to break down a little bit, let it go.
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>> after a few highly emotional moments, john regains his composure and he rolls over on his partners in crime. >> they don't care what happens to me right now. they don't [ bleep ] care. so why i have to care about what they are going to do to them, you know? i don't have to care about that [ bleep ]. >> catching a booster is all well and good, but investigators are after bigger game. the guys who give boosters, like john, his daily shopping list. >> how many different fencing locations did you deal with? >> investigators want to catch john's fence in the act of knowingly buying stolen merchandise. to do that, they must first reintroduce john into his old outfit and hopefully he's welcomed back without suspicion. >> he's going to have to work his way back in, and have to prove that he's still worthy. he gets a large box like this. >> investigators now have a much clearer picture of how and where this particular ring of boosters operates.
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now they will set up to catch the fence by setting up a dragnet, using john, the booster, as bait. [ speaking in foreign language ] >> this is the hot stuff. chirp] [ bird squawks ] ♪ [ bird screeching ] ♪ [ elevator bell dings ] [ sighs ] how mad is she? she kicked me out. but i took the best stuff. i'll get the wrench. ♪ [ male announcer ] kohler's tresham collection. life. with a twist. ♪ all at 150 calories or less, there's definitely a temptations for you. unless you're one of those people who doesn't like delicious stuff. temptations. it's the first jell-o that's just for adults.
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hello, i'm milissa rehber r rehberger. two nato troops were gunned down in southern afghanistan today. a candlelight vigil scheduled for tonight at boston university after three students died in a tragic accident in new zealand. a fourth student is in critical condition from the crash. speaking at liberty university, mitt romney reiterated his opinion that marriage is between a man and woman. now back to msnbc "undercover." a ring of thieves is wreaking havoc on drugstores throughout the southwest, that
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is, until this booster is caught in the act at a walgreens in texas and decides to cooperate with investigators. >> i'm getting nervous because i thought he was going to know who i am, but i don't think he's going to find out. >> it takes a few days, but john eventually regains the confidence of his fence, ricoh, who then sends the witness back out onto the road to boost again. >> they really trust me. because i'm one of the best doing this. >> but unbeknownst to ricoh, john will not be boosting on this road trip. instead he will hide out with investigators who are assembling a load of marked walgreens merchandise for john to sell to the unsuspecting fence. >> this is the hot stuff and most of the products we list as hot and super hot and these these are the super hot products. it's pretty much all products that are considered fast-moving
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consumer goods, we call it fmcg. those are products that people want to buy. >> all these items come from the retailer's warehouse and have been specifically set aside for undercover stings like this one. >> $30 apiece retail. that adds up fast. >> the total amount of merchandise in this room exceeds $24,000 in retail. it will be enough, john believes, to make rico very happy. >> very good. i was working hard. >> all that remains is a phone call from john to the fence to set up the transaction. >> just say what today's date is. >> we're going to record a call from the fence. hello? [ speaking in spanish ] >> he told me come tomorrow to
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give him the account number and everything so he can post the money for me. >> the deal is set and investigators have the feds hooked on the line. now all they have to do is reel him in. at this point, the walgreens team will hand off its investigation to a joint task force of local law enforcement and the fbi. >> law enforcement will move it on now to the next level. make the sales and the contact, that type of thing. >> the hope, of course, is that the investigation will end up in a scene like this one, from chicago, in 2004. >> it's called the biggest fencing bust ever in the chicago area. >> outside, the business looks like an average mom and pop store, but in reality, police say, central grocery was a magnet for shoplifters looking to sell stolen merchandise. >> everything from ipods to infant formula went through this store. >> the multimillion-dollar chicago bust all began with the cooperation of a busted booster
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named jesus hernandez. this interview was conducted by investigators from walgreens and the cook county sheriff's department shortly after jesus' arrest in 2004. >> how many days would you shoplift? >> every single day. now i'm going to take it off the rack. >> like many in the boosting game, jesus' shoplifting went hand in hand with drug addiction. >> that's how i would get myself in debt. i would go in the morning, i wouldn't have no money. i would go in the morning and borrow money from my fence. >> so you had to feed that habit. and to feed that habit, he had to steal a minimum of a couple thousand dollars a day. >> the owner is mohammed. >> after his arrest in exchange for a reduced charge, jesus gave up the name and address of his fence. investigators quickly set up surveillance, and what they saw from the outside was a typical mom and pop storefront, except the business seemed to be
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running in reverse. >> it's common to see people leaving a grocery store carrying bags. it's not common to see people entering grocery stores carrying bags and this particular location had more people carrying merchandise in than they were carrying merchandise out. how many other people do you know that sell their stolen goods at central grocery? >> i mean, it's a constant flow all day. you're talking 200, 300 people a day. >> the man seen here standing in the doorway is actually a security guard hired by the fence to keep an eye on the boosters. and for good reason. there was a lot of loose cash inside the store. >> they'd start every day with about $20,000, and that was to pay people for bringing in goods, stolen goods. >> this video was from a hidden camera worn by an undercover officer posing as a booster. the merchandise in this case is a hot load of nicorette gum, $400 worth at retail. here the fence doles out $75 in
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cash for the stolen items. >> even on the day of the raid, while we're standing there, there was caution and police tape all over, and federal agents, people standing around, you have a shoplifter walking up selling stolen goods. >> today's raids like the one in chicago are backing more and more common as more and more players get into the boosting game. here in polk county, florida, sheriffs deputies and federal agents conduct a spectacular raid that nabs two dozen suspects in the fencing ring that may have moved as much as $100 million in stolen merchandise. >> it was a big, big, big up there. >> it was an elaborate operation so that they had it clearly lined out and it would be easy for them to tell when they needed additional products, and that's when they would create a new shopping list. it was professionally run in every sense of the word. >> hold, freeze!
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>> according to police, one of the ring leaders was this woman, teresa perish. at her peak, investigators say she was banking $9,000 to $10,000 a day in boosted merchandise. >> i want to read you your rights. okay, you're under arrest. you're not free to leave. we want to get your cooperation. >> we know about your boost at the flea market and everything else, and we know about all that stuff. >> for seven months, investigators from the retail giant target helped polk county build their case, watching and documenting the crime ring in action. >> they can work in the house, cover each other's back and in as little as three minutes could steal as much as $3,000 worth of product. in fact, there was one incident where they were stealing, as a supervisor, as it would be, walked past them on the aisle. that's just how good they were. >> just moments after the raid, john coburn, the man officials say led the fencing operation,
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listens in stunned silence as a deputy rattles off the legalese of a search warrant. >> and are being violated. >> translation? you're out of business and under arrest. john coburn and teresa perish pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. >> there isn't a day that goes by we aren't the victim of major crime somewhere in our operations. ou. how nice of joe to, how you say, have your back. try something different. a delicious gevalia kaffe, or as i like to say, a cup of johan. will johan power walk the mall with you? i don't think so. but he will spend time rubbing your feet, discussing your feelings. ♪ joe may have your back, but johan has your feet. gevalia. meet me in the coffee aisle. cleaning better, doesn't have to take longer.
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in here, heavy rental equipment in the middle of nowhere, is always headed somewhere. to give it a sense of direction, at&t created a mobile asset solution to protect and track everything. so every piece of equipment knows where it is, how it's doing or where it goes next. ♪ this is the bell on the cat. [ male announcer ] it's a network of possibilities -- helping you do what you do... even better. ♪ the real organized thieves, the people that do this for a living, they are very, very brazen most of the time. >> meet target's top cop, tony heredia and the individuals he considers the biggest threat to the retail giants yet. >> they've thought out their plan and know what their strategy is going to be, go straight in, conduct the theft,
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and they leave. >> he wants boosters to know that target investigators are always watching. >> this clip here, you'll see they're attempting to block the criminal activity going on, the prying up of the ipod case with a rather large box. at one point in this clip, a person who is not involved with these people in any shape or form, will literally walk right past them, wow, they are stealing something right out of the case and it doesn't even phase these thieves one bit. that's how brazen they are. this person has brought a crow bar into the store with them. he thinks he's going to conceal himself behind the electronics counter or boat so team members can't see him. he'll literally pry the door open, where we've locked all of our digital cameras. this person will take every single digital camera out of that drawer. they'll put them into a cart. >> welcome to ground zero of the target corporation's battle against boosters. and the e-fencing of stolen products. >> there isn't a day that goes by that we are not a victim of major theft crimes somewhere in our operations.
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>> target considers thieves like these more than a corporate nuisance. they threaten all consumers by driving up the costs of everyday items and in a tight economy, that's bad news for everyone. >> they will go to every store they can within a geographic area. they usually specialize in one method of theft because in their minds they've gotten good at how to get that product out of our stores. they will go in very brazenly and not worried about other shoppers or surveillance cameras and in many cases take large items, bulky items, large screen tvs, dyson vacuum cleaners, and push them out of a fire escape in the back of a store and having a vehicle waiting for them in the back of the store. >> in keeping with target's mission, fighting crime is a total team effort. along with hundreds of trained investigators, behind these closed doors, target maintains their secret weapon. a crack team of forensic scientists. it's csi minneapolis. whether it's analyzing stickers,
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tracking stolen merchandise, or monitoring suspicious e-commerce, the forensic team at target is second to none. just how skilled are they? federal and state officials use the retailers team to help them with evidence unrelated to corporate crime. senior forensic investigator rick laughtenberg wants criminals to know target investigators are intrepid and impatient. >> just because somebody walks away from a store doesn't mean it's over. patient. >> just because somebody walks away from a store doesn't mean it's over. >> welcome to the state-of-the-art video analysis lab where editor craig attorney painstakingly examines surveillance video frame by frame. >> what craig is doing is he's literally examining that evidence, that video evidence and trying to extract all the possible details that are relevant to the prosecution. >> why don't you go back and forth to the other shot. how specific can you be? >> well, in this particular case, i stated that unless this
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guy here has a twin brother that has got the same tattoo, based on the comparisons of the facial features and the tattoo similarities, unless he's got a twin brother, i'm going to go to court and say it's the same person. >> the difficulty in the cases that come to target is showing that the same group of people is, in fact, connected all across the different stores, different states, different regions, different markets. the important point is to validate these are the same people. if you can do that you make law enforcement officers' jobs much easier. >> with millions of dollars at risk, the critical job is tracking down the sale of stolen products online. >> they are selling these on these online auction sites or fencing operations cheaper for what target can buy them for wholesale. if you see a dyson for sale for $200 that would sell at target for $500, that's stolen merchandise. >> big ticket items like the dyson vacuum are easy to track, because they're exclusively sold at target, but like many items that are stolen, pawnshops aren't interested.
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mild-mannered paul is a pit bull when it comes to tracking stolen products online. his team tracks down thieves, like the vacuum power seller. >> he sold over 30 dyson vacuums in a 45-day period. that's not traditionally somebody getting it as a christmas present or a wedding gift. there's something extremely unique. >> investigators say popular online auction sites have become the modern day pawnshops to sell to unsuspecting buyers quickly and anonymously. ebay takes the issue of stolen goods very seriously to protect the honest sellers and maintain the trust of the millions of shoppers. in a letter to our producers, the company said, "ebay's global trust and safety team employs more than 2,000 individuals dedicated to ensuring the safety and security of our marketplace." it went on to say "ebay provides full cooperation to law enforcement and dedicates significant resources and millions of dollars each year to
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meet that goal," and investigators say that some of the responsibility lies with the consumers themselves. >> they should think to themselves, is it worth me getting a great deal to fund a criminal enterprise? is it worth me getting a good deal to help people buy guns, buy drugs or circumvent business dealers who depend on their livelihood to make money reselling merchandise legitimately when they get that great deal? >> over the last two years, one of target's big problems is the sophisticated theft and sales of high valued electronics, like the popular ipod. >> one scheme or scam that really hits consumers hard is when somebody does a swap out. they will buy a product, let's say an ipod, take it home, open the package, and then take out the merchandise and put something else in that is of similar weight and dimensions and re-shrink wrap the package and bring it back to us.
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>> in 2006, investigators noticed a pattern of ipod swappouts in their midwest stores. unhappy consumers would purchase an ipod and then -- >> when they open it, it's not an ipod. it's a piece of brick, a rock, something else that has similar weight and dimension characteristics. of course, they are very upset about this. they come back to the store immediately demanding a refund and now we're stuck in a difficult situation. how do we know where the theft actually occurred? how do we know whether the person bringing the return back of the opened item isn't the person attempting a return scheme? >> so the e-crime team at target zeroed in on power sellers linda and john wilson of des moines, iowa. target said since 2006 the wilsons sold numerous brand new ipods online and all of them were curiously missing their boxes. so the target team jumped into action and found these tapes. target says surveillance tapes show mother and son in action. here john wilson appears to buy the ipod and mother wilson returns it each time for
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hundreds of dollars in cash. now, investigators need just one last piece of the puzzle before they take the case to police. using the fake name, andy andrews, e-crime has contacted the wilsons online to buy one of their many ipods. >> one that package comes in we'll send it to the investigator and the investigator will compare the serial numbers with law enforcement in hopes that the serial numbers match up. >> we have the best investigators in the industry. >> police department, we have a search warrant. pizza!!!!! [ garth ] olaf's small business earns 2% cash back on every purchase, every day! put it on my spark card! [ high-pitched ] nice doin' business with you! [ garth ] why settle for less? great businesses deserve the most rewards! awesome!!! [ male announcer ] the spark business card from capital one. choose unlimited rewards with 2% cash back or double miles on every purchase, every day! what's in your wallet?
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after three years of detective work, target investigators think they finally located the criminals stealing ipods from target and selling them online. their suspects? a mother and son team, here o to be caught on tape here during what police say one of many buy and return schemes. the suspects return the ipods
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for cash after they resealed the box with garbage for the next unsuspecting customer. today a critical element has arrived. using the fake name andy andrews, investigator purchased what he believes is a recently stolen ipod from none other than power seller john wilson. >> i've got a package. >> reporter: he takes it to forensic investigator nick zerwiss. each item processed by the lab may be presented in court so technicians take every precaution keeping the workspace sterile and using gloves to protect the integrity of the evidence. >> let's open it up and see what we've got. >> hopefully we have our ipod. >> it's an ipod, all of the components, and mysteriously, no package. >> investigators catalogued the serial numbers.
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the e-crime team anxiously hopes for a match. >> here's our known serial numbers from our empty packages. >> all right. >> you want to read them off to me. >> yeah. 8 k 8099 frank 1 yellow mary x-ray. >> perfect. >> that's a match. >> we got a match. >> all right, well i'll continue to process it and do everything we need to do and i'll send you s. >> it's up to local law enforcement to close the case. it's 7:00 a.m. in des moines, iowa and sergeant dan paulson of the police department has been tracking the case with target investigators. with confirmation from the csi lab in minneapolis an this day, police are ready to move in on the suspects. >> we have an arrest, two arrest warrants for linda wilson and her son, john wilson. we're looking for an envelope
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that the money order would have came in, and that would be addressed to linda wilson with a return address to an andy andrews out of rose field, minnesota. >> armed with arrest warrants, four squad cars and six officers roll out to a sleepy neighborhood in west des moines in search of the mother and son suspects. >> in iowa, that means that we have to at least knock and make an attempt to let the people open the door and let us in before we force entry. >> police say linda wilson is not new to them. she's had previous trouble with the law. >> it's the des moines police department. we have a search warrant. west des moines police, we have a search warrant. if you don't open it, we're going to come in. >> detective paulson warns us that the wilson home is armed with sophisticated surveillance equipment and that they will not be easy to apprehend.
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>> police department! we have a search warrant! >> police find linda wilson hiding in the living room. when confronted, she denies knowing anything. officers assure her that they have caught her on tape. >> she's made some initial denials about not knowing anything. but right off the bat she says, well, i bought an ipod and returned an ipod, but i've never stolen an ipod. now that linda, the female, has been arrested, she's on her way to our holding facility, we're going to try to check one other address for the male. >> the police head to john wilson's home next where they do not have a search warrant that allows them to breach the residence. >> police department. we need to talk to you, john. >> you got it. >> but the officers are
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authorized to search his car. >> is there an account number on it or something? >> yeah. >> let's take it. >> mostly junk mail. >> within minutes his wife arrives home. >> hi there. are you shannon? >> yeah. >> she doesn't look surprised to see the police. >> is john around at all? for us to talk to him? is he working somewhere? >> no. that would be nice. >> wilson's wife says she hasn't seen her husband. but neighbors tell police that john is in and out of the house every day. >> he does come and go. he comes by and sees the boys but he doesn't actually say here. >> she invites officers to search her home where police discover that moments before their arrival, john wilson grabbed his computer and fled. detective paulson thinks it's likely his mother tipped him off while they were outside her house. but all is not lost. even though john wilson is on the lam, officers find ample evidence of his criminal activity. a short search yields bags of receipts from various retailers,
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and lo and behold -- >> what have you got? >> andy andrew's letter. >> you did? sweet. >> an investigator locates what police consider the smoking gun. >> this letter was the original envelope that target mailed linda wilson a payment for the stolen ipod that they purchased on the ebay auction under the alias name of andy andrews. >> it connects linda and john together. this car was seen leaving the parking lot during one of the ipod purchases and returns. in addition, we found the actual purchase receipt and the return for one of the stolen ipods from april 13th. >> west des moines police put out an all-points bulletin for john wilson. while her son remains a fugitive, linda wilson pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. target wants boosters to know, they are always watching. >> we have the best investigators in the industry, bar none. >> sooner or later, we're going to get them.


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