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Retailers Facing Rising Theft Issues After Facial Recognition Cameras Removed

CE and appliance retailers are facing a significant increase in theft, a problem that is sweeping the world as consumers under financial pressure take to stealing goods with teenagers bragging about what they have stolen on social media.

In the USA Target, Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and other major retailers have been sounding alarms over the last year about rising rates of retail theft with the Companies moving to introduce new systems in an effort to cut down theft rates.

In Australia, Harvey Norman, Bunnings, Kmar, Big W, Myer and David Jones as well as JB Hi Fi have seen theft rates rise this year.

More recently, retail theft increased by 37.8% per year on average in the two years to March 2023 in NSW.

In certain parts of the US which is according to analysts heading into a recession retailer such as Best Buy are “definitely seeing an increase” in break-ins and thieves “just grabbing” goods and “running out,” Best Buy CEO Corie Barry said recently. Tuesday on a call with analysts. But shrink as a percentage of Best Buy’s overall revenue is nearly where it was pre-pandemic, she said.

In the UK things are so bad that a shoplifting epidemic has forced retailers to band together to establish a $1.3 million dollar fund to fund a crackdown.

Branded “Project Pegasus” the retailers will use facial recognition technology to help identify and target shoplifting gangs, the leading perpetrator of a crime wave that is costing retailers an estimated $1.5 billion a year in extra preventive measures, let alone stock losses.

Last year when Australian retailers moved to bring in facial recognition in an effort to cut down theft rates there was an uproar from organisations such as Choice who took the view that consumers needed to give consent before security cameras and facial recognition technology that is now being used in the UK could be used, a move that some claim played into the hands of criminals.

At the time Choice mounted a campaign claiming that Wesfarmers’ Kmart and Bunnings chains and JB Hi-Fi’s The Good Guys – were using facial recognition technology to scan customers’ faces, without proper consent.

Recently Bunnings denied reintroducing facial recognition technology that prompted backlash from customers and privacy experts last year.

The harware retailer paused its use of the technology in July 2022 after the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) opened an investigation into whether the retailer had breached privacy laws.

But a customer this week accused Bunnings of “quietly reviving” the policy after they noticed a sign at a new store in Melbourne’s north that stated “facial recognition may be used”.

In the UK shoplifting has surged and the use of technology is now a key factor in cutting down theft rates.

Big retail stores such as John Lewis, clothing chain Next and supermarket giants Waitrose, Tesco, Co-Op and Sainsbury’s along with Curry’s have all backed the move to use technology in an effort to cut their losses.

Several retailers that ChannelNews have spoken to are concerned that rights to privacy that favour shoplifters is not an issue if consumers are doing the right thing.

They also claim that some of the biggest offenders are teenagers and children in school uniforms.

Researchers claim that social media platforms are allowing teenagers to brag about crimes might be contributing to an increase in youth offending in Australia’s most populous states, Victorian police and New South Wales’s crime statistics agency say.

In Victoria, data from the Crime Statistics Agency (CSA) released recently reported that home burglaries committed by 10-to-14-year-olds increased by almost 87% in the 12 months to 31 March, compared with the prior year.

There has also been a dramatic lift in shoplifting among teenagers.

Under the Privacy Act, businesses can only collect a face print without consent if: the business is identifying the person as a part of an automated verification process, if it is authorised by law; or. the business is required to collect it to prevent a serious threat to life, safety, or health of any individual, there is no provision for the identifying of criminals.

“Shoplifting strikes at the heart of the British high street, and the policing minister has asked forces to take a zero-tolerance approach to this crime,” the Home Office said in a statement sent to The Australian Financial Review.

“By enabling retailers to share better information on shoplifting with police forces and build up a national strategic picture, Project Pegasus will help crack down on criminal gangs across the country.”

“High streets … risk becoming a looting ground for emboldened shoplifters and organised gangs,” said Sharon White, chairwoman of department store chain John Lewis recently.

The UK Home Office has identified three kinds of shoplifting: casual or opportunistic shoplifters; prolific offenders, often driven by an addiction to drugs, alcohol or gambling; and organised gangs working at scale – the most problematic category, targeted by Pegasus.

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