Central Ohio theft ring appears to be part of larger issue, law enforcement says

View the player above to see previous coverage.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Central Ohio law enforcement officials claim organized retail theft has seemingly increased in recent years, with a recent investigation unveiling a unique shoplifting ring with local convenience stores as the culprit.

Det. Caleb Loposser with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office conducted an investigation into a shoplifting ring responsible for a string of thefts across central Ohio over the past three months.

Why Ohio is on a record pace for tornadoes

Loposser said small local convenience stores were using individuals who were in need of cash quickly, including multiple people suffering from drug addiction. The stores gave the individuals a  “shoplifting list” that they took to larger stores, such as Target and Sephora, to steal items to bring back to the convenience stores. Those stores would then resell the items at a lower price.

“You don’t have to be a mathematician to understand they’re making a significant amount of profit on those and turning them quickly,” Loposser said. “They don’t have to order it from the supply chain to stock their shelves and pay for any of that overhead, they just pay addicts pennies on the dollar to go do the work for them.”

Since the investigation is ongoing and nobody associated with the convenience stores has been charged yet, the sheriff’s office can not yet reveal which stores were involved in the theft ring. Loposser said these kinds of thefts contribute to rising prices and can result in stores cutting staff to save money.

More tenants, including KeyBank, moving out of namesake Downtown tower

“If they [experience] a certain level of loss, we’ve seen in other areas where stores are actually closing down,” Loposser said. “Or stores don’t offer certain items anymore, whether that’s electronics out of certain areas because it’s such a high theft area. So there’s a lot of different impacts.”

Loposser said those involved in organized retail crime will also often sell the items they have stolen on Facebook Marketplace, online chat groups and to pawn shops. The National Retail Federation stated organized retail crime has been a “high-priority concern” for decades, with the concern growing in recent years as shoplifters have utilized new channels to resell stolen goods.

The Council on Criminal Justice found that shoplifting reports in 24 cities with available data were 16% higher (about 8,450 more incidents) during the first six months of 2023 compared with the same period in 2019.

The Columbus Division of Police Property Crimes Unit stated organized retail crime in the city has “seemed to increase over the years,” but said they could not discuss any ongoing investigations.

Harlem Township calls off negotiations with Westerville amid Intel development

“I have heard and read of other areas, especially across the country, of this taking place,” Loposser said. “Organized retail crime has been something that’s been a certain level of popularity, and it’s surged in other areas. … We’re seeing a lot of this stuff replicated now in Columbus that we may have seen in other areas.”

If a shopper or employee witnesses a theft, Loposser does not suggest they put themselves in harm’s way by interfering. He said witnesses can note information such as the shoplifter’s license plate number, vehicle make and model, and clothes to help law enforcement catch the suspect.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to NBC4 WCMH-TV.