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Breaking News in the Industry: November 30, 2016

Police are solving more crimes thanks to pizza

When AJ Soprano and his pals vandalized the pool at his prep school on “The Sopranos,” it wasn’t a snitch that brought them down — it was pizza. After cops confront the pizza man with the evidence and ask who had purchased the pie, he reluctantly drops a dime on AJ. The teen faces expulsion — and the wrath of his mob-boss father. But this saucy scenario isn’t limited to fiction. In the last two years, pies have helped crack nearly a half-dozen high-profile crimes.

Pizza deliveries tipped cops off to international fugitives and preserved DNA evidence that blew open a gruesome DC-area quadruple homicide. Most recently in Illinois, a mugging of a pizza man led investigators to criminals who had just murdered a man in Georgia. Call it a slice of justice.

“Pizza hunger trumps better judgment,” says Candice DeLong, a former FBI criminal profiler. “Because none of these people would have been in prison today if they hadn’t picked up the phone and called up for a Domino’s pie.”

- Digital Partner -

Summarizing some recent high-profile examples:

• Perhaps the most ironic pizza detective work involved the case of superstar vegan chef Sarma Melngailis, who revolutionized the New York culinary scene with her Pure Food and Wine raw-food restaurant. She had celebrity devotees like Alec Baldwin and Woody Harrelson, an Ivy League pedigree and a lithe figure honed by years of vegan living.

Melngailis and her grifter hubby, Anthony Strangis, were on the lam for 10 months after allegedly stealing $2 million from the business and stiffing employees. But the foodie fugitives were nabbed in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, after ordering a Domino’s pizza and chicken wings. Strangis tipped off police because he used his own name while ordering. The pair were charged with 24 counts of theft, labor fraud and tax crime charges.

• Ethan Couch, otherwise known as the “Affluenza Teen,” fled from Texas with his mother after a violation of his probation. The 18-year-old had already fueled outrage in 2013, when he was convicted of killing four people in a drunk driving crash. The spoiled teen was spared jail time because his defense successfully argued that his sheltered upbringing in Texas left him ill equipped to comprehend the severity of his horrific actions. After he and his mother fled their home state, pursuing US Marshals got their break after one of the Couches’ cellphones was used to order a Domino’s pizza.

DeLong says pizza may be responsible for more detective work than has been reported. “I think it’s probably more common than you know,” she says. “It wasn’t a good end of the day for the criminals, no matter how many free toppings they got.” [Source: The New York Post]

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Cyber Monday brings in record haul

Cyber Monday has made history — again. With shoppers spending $3.45 billion online on Cyber Monday, Nov. 28, a 12.1% jump year-over-year, sales not only surpassed predictions, but made this the largest Cyber Monday shopping event to date, according to Adobe Digital Insights, which aggregated data from 23 billion visits to retail websites.

Mobile spending on Cyber Monday started off strong early in the day, then slowed in the evening hours. However, it still generated $1.07 billion, a 34% YoY increase. Interestingly, this was $130 million less than Black Friday. Specifically, mobile accounted for 47% of visits to retail web sites (38% through smartphones, and 9% via tablets: 9%) and 31% of sales (22% from smartphones, and 9% through tablets). The slight decrease is indicative that consumers were shopping from their desktops and laptops in the late evening, according to Adobe.

Conversions were well above holiday averages, with smart phones at 2.8%, tablets at 5.1% and desktops at 6.3%. The average order value (AOV) on iOS smartphones ($141) was slightly higher compared to Android smartphones ($128), Adobe said.

- Digital Partner -

The holiday shopping season so far has driven a total of $39.97 billion in online revenue, a 7.6% increase YoY. Given the strong performance of online shopping sales over Thanksgiving weekend and Cyber Monday, Adobe affirms its projection that the holiday shopping season will drive $91.6 billion in online sales. [Source: Chain Store Age]


This holiday, retailers expect many unhappy returns

A holiday-related crime spree is ramping up and chances are you won’t even notice, but many local shopkeepers already are standing guard. It is called return fraud, and it’s among the fastest-growing and most expensive problems confronted by stores of all types and sizes. Last year, return scams clipped U.S. retailers for nearly $2 billion nationally during the year-end holiday selling spree and for about $15 billion annually, according to industry data.

Despite greater retail prevention efforts, few will be surprised if this year’s total creeps higher. Return swindles translate into millions of dollars in lost or uncollected sales tax revenue, adding to the average taxpayers’ burden. On top of that, be assured that retailers will make up their losses at your expense.

“Certainly there’s a loss of tax revenue,” says Robert Moraca, vice president of loss prevention at the National Retail Federation, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group. “And every item stolen has to be replaced, and that’s passed on to the consumer.”

About 20 percent of store owners have raised their refund requirements for holiday purchases, including insisting on a receipt and personal identification for completing any refund transaction, the retail group says.

Meanwhile, some stores are restricting their seasonal or new employees from making refunds for more than set dollar amounts. In those cases, a supervisor is called as backup to complete the transaction. [Source: Chicago Tribune]


Police make arrests in possible multi-state theft ring

Police say eight people from Chicago, who are facing theft charges, could also be involved in a high-end theft ring spanning several states.

Suspects stole items from Saks Fifth Avenue, in St. Louis, Saturday and fled in multiple vehicles. Police chased them. Later, they were able to spot one of the vehicles driving north on I-55 and disabled one of its tires with a spike strip. The suspects made it to Farmersville before eight people got away on foot.Those suspects were caught and arrested, but police say more people were involved in the theft in St. Louis and still have not been caught.

Police say they’re all involved in a high-end retail store theft ring which hit businesses in Indiana, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio and is responsible for nearly $2 million worth of stolen items and damages. [Source: Illinois]


Woman pleads guilty in $90k retail fraud case

A Novato, California woman accused of stealing nearly $90,000 through her job at a Corte Madera clothing store pleaded guilty to a computer fraud charge. Alexa Roper accepted a plea offer for up to 120 days in jail, said Deputy District Attorney Otis Bruce. Roper also agreed to pay full restitution plus interest, which could be about $100,000, Bruce said.

Roper, a former employee at the Athleta store, was arrested in July after an investigation by company officials, the Central Marin Police Authority and the Marin County District Attorney’s Office. A company investigator contacted police to report that Roper was involved in 132 fraudulent credit card transactions, according to a prosecution affidavit. The company alleged that Roper embezzled $87,730.83 by processing refunds from merchandise returns to accounts she controlled.

The company investigation linked the transactions to Roper through electronic records systems and video surveillance tapes, the affidavit said. Based on the investigation, Central Marin police obtained a search warrant for Roper’s residence. Police found more than $25,000 in cash, hundreds of new and used credit cards, credit card statements and a credit card embossing machine.

The district attorney’s office charged Roper with embezzlement, computer fraud and counterfeiting financial cards. [Source:]


Woman who admitted shoplifting truckloads now accused of bra thefts

An Overland Park, Kansas woman facing sentencing for shoplifting truckloads of clothing from area retailers has been arrested again, accused of stealing bras from a Kohl’s store. The new arrest on Tuesday came just a day before Kelli Bauer was scheduled to be sentenced in Johnson County District Court.

Bauer, owner of a high-end jewelry and baby clothing business, had pleaded guilty earlier this year to three counts of theft, including a felony charge. She now faces one additional count of misdemeanor theft, accused of stealing an unknown number of bras on Nov. 15.

The larger case unfolded in April last year, when police searched Bauer’s home — a $900,000 house in an exclusive neighborhood — and carried away in trucks more than 1,000 items of allegedly stolen clothing and other items, some still bearing store stickers and price tags. According to court records, police began investigating after they found a Facebook posting for the sale of “high-end” clothing. Detectives visited Bauer’s home as buyers and tailed her to several stores, where they saw her steal items.

Prosecutors will ask a judge to release them from the plea agreement and consider a heavier sentence because of the additional charge. Bauer had previously been twice convicted of stealing clothing from retailers, in 2007 and 2013. [Source: The Kansas City Star]


‘Buyer Beware!’ Counterfeit goods and the holiday shopping season

Just in time for the holiday shopping season, two federal law enforcement agencies offered a joint media event in New York to highlight counterfeit goods and consumer awareness. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) hosted a presentation about goods with fake trademarks and how consumers can protect themselves.

“We know there are consumers who knowingly purchase knock-offs,” said Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI New York. “To them I say, counterfeiting is not a victimless crime. It not only threatens our national security by endangering the health and safety of consumers, it also wreaks havoc on our economy and funds criminal elements involved in other illegal activities.”

In 2015, the number of seizures made nationally due to Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) violations increased 25 percent from the previous year, totaling more than 28,000 seizures with an estimated value of more than $1.3 billion.

While watches and handbags are considered the most counterfeited items, intellectual property thieves will counterfeit any product that can be sold or marketed. Some of those trends include counterfeit drugs, medical equipment, aircraft and automobile parts, computer hardware, military components, and electrical safety devices.

The trafficking of counterfeit goods coming across the U.S. border is part of a global, multibillion dollar crime linked to organized criminal groups and serious health hazards. According to the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition, businesses worldwide lose an estimated $600 to $700 billion annually due to counterfeiting.

While the sale of merchandise with IPR violations has traditionally been seen in store fronts, warehouses or on the street, criminal organizations have become savvy in setting up online stores to trick the public into believing they are purchasing legitimate goods on legitimate websites. HSI teamed with industry and international law enforcement leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday last year and shut down more than 30,000 domain names that were illegally selling counterfeit merchandise online to unsuspecting consumers. HSI is supporting those operations again this year. [Source: U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement]

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