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Why Flash Mob Theft Has Become a Viral Crime

Flash mob theft has taken retailers and social media alike by storm. In this article, we explore some of the primary causes and trends of this phenomenon.
Why Flash Mob Theft Has Become a Viral Crime

The term "flash mob" in the viral sense is typically attributed to videos at weddings or on the streets of people uniformly bursting out into dance. However, flash mobs take an unsettling form with crime as footage of flash mob thefts circulate the media. 

This past August, 30 thieves rushed into a Yves Saint Laurent Store in Glendale, CA, stealing more than $300k worth of goods. The dramatic crime, caught on video, was covered by news outlets nationwide. Social media has been flooded with dramatic footage capturing flash mob thefts such as this, alarming retailers and consumers with the shocking and brazen nature of the crime.  

Is this retail chaos happening as often as it looks, where does it fall under regarding Organized Retail Crime (ORC) or Organized Retail Theft, and what are the common factors across the phenomenon? In this article, we will dig into these questions, looking at what exactly flash mob theft is, the two major factors at play, and ways to combat it. 

What is Organized Retail Crime (ORC)? 

Organized Retail Crime (ORC) refers to a type of criminal activity where groups of individuals collaborate to engage in theft, fraud, or other illicit activities targeting retail establishments. It encompasses professional criminal enterprises spanning from local gangs to global crime rings.  

Compared to typical shoplifting where an individual may steal for personal use, ORC is coordinated and planned among a group of people. Stolen goods can span from lower priced goods such as baby formula, detergents, and beauty products, to high priced designer bags, jewelry, and power tools – typically things that are in high demand, stable shelf life, easy to transport, and with consistent retail value. 

The issue of ORC continues to be on the rise. According to the National Retail Federation, organized crime affected 57% of retailers in 2021. This implies that most retail stores encountered instances of criminal activity with an increase of 94% in retail crime over the last 5 years. With more and more cases popping up, ORC presents the urgent need for strategies to combat the issue. 

What is Flash Mob Theft? 

Flash mob theft, sometimes called “flash robs,” is a form of multiple offender smash-and-grab which falls under the low-level end of the ORC umbrella. It refers to a coordinated, yet seemingly spontaneous, act of crime where a group of individuals descends upon a retail store with the goal of stealing mass amounts of merchandise in a short time frame. Criminal groups ranging from 5 to 50 use social media to organize their crimes. Using this structure, flash mob robbers will heavily rely on the size of their group and disregard the security systems in place such as security tags, entrances, and cameras. The offenders then quickly flee the scene before law enforcement arrives. 

This method of ORC is intended to overwhelm store staff with its chaotic nature. Hiding behind hooded jackets and masks, the group moves quickly and aggressively. Typically, injuries are not the result or the goal, but the violent nature of the crime can disturb employees, customers, and other bystanders. 

Flash Mob Theft Today

In the summer of 2023, there was a notable surge in flash mob theft incidents, capturing headlines with countless news stories detailing group heists at retail and high-end stores. According to the NRF, 2022 saw a total of $112B in retail revenue loss, of which flash mob theft and other forms of ORC are a major contributor. Criminal activities, such as flash mob thefts, became more prevalent, challenging retailers and law enforcement to implement enhanced security measures to counteract this coordinated and disruptive form of criminal behavior. There are some common factors among these incidents, of which two in particular stand out: the age of the offenders and location of the crimes. 

Youth Partaking in Smash-and-Grab “Flash Robs”  

The phenomenon of smash-and-grab robberies has drawn attention for its notable involvement of a large demographic of young teens. Around 25% of shoplifters were between the ages of 12 and 17 in 2023. Many viral videos have indicated that this age group have found this form of theft appealing. 

Why is there a connection between teens and flash mob theft? The main answer lies in the fact that it does not require much structure to plan out these attacks. The main components are planning the time of the robbery, being quick, and having a way of fleeing. Along with that, about 90% of teens have at least one interaction with social media, and social media can play a major role in communicating these plans.  

The concept of smash-and-grab is also appealing through its possibility of high-value reward, compared to petty theft. If adolescent teens are feeding in their kleptomaniac urges, then getting more for their effort is going to be the goal. 

Major Cities and Flash Mob Robbery 

The rise in flash mob theft incidents, extensively covered in the news and documented on social media, signals a concerning trend of increased smash-and-grab robberies in major cities. Notably, urban centers like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Philadelphia have experienced a surge in these coordinated criminal activities.  

Several factors may contribute to the prevalence of these crimes in major cities, including the high concentration of retail establishments, bustling commercial districts, and the anonymity provided by urban environments. Additionally, the potential for lucrative gains from stolen goods in metropolitan areas serves as an incentive for organized criminal groups to target these areas. 

Solutions to Flash Mob Theft

The landscape of flash mob theft is shaped by both age and location, with distinct factors influencing the dynamics of these coordinated criminal activities. Recognizing the complexity of this issue, various solutions have been developed and are now being implemented to address the challenges of flash mob theft. 

  • Curfew Policies: Having policies in place that may require certain ages to be accompanied by an adult has already been implemented into many major malls, such as the Mall of America. Along with that adjusting store hours can help with reducing robberies. 
  • Security Training: Making sure your staff is equipped to identify and understand risk scenarios when they occur is vital to reducing loss and staying safety.  
  • Upgrading Equipment: Sometimes the difference between an item being stolen or not is how difficult it is to access. Smash-resistant glass and protective encasing can reduce shrinkage and damage. 
  • Recording Data: Having receipts of the robbery is essential for post-incident documentation. Incorporating or upgrading your analytics tools can help you keep a record of what happened and aid your case in filing police reports.

How Agilence Can Help 

If you have multiple locations, it may be hard to identify the degree of theft across your organization. By analyzing your inventory and transaction data, a robust data analytics platform like Agilence Analytics can provide insight into the extent of your loss and help to determine if law enforcement measures are warranted. 

When flash mob thefts occur, you don’t want employees to intervene. Instead, have employees enter the incident details into an incident management software such as Agilence Case Management. These details will not only be useful for law enforcement but can help your LP team understand the common features and patterns behind such events to prevent them from happening in the future. 

The Agilence Case Management solution is set to debut its innovative Case Linking feature, which leverages machine learning (ML) algorithms to uncover correlations between incidents. Users will be able to view connected cases based on any user-defined criteria such as suspect name, vehicle model, case type, method, incident description/narrative, and more. The Case Linking feature will be instrumental in the ORC fight, as it aids in identifying recurring theft or robbery patterns across multiple stores by the same individuals or groups. This could help prevent further incidents by understanding the perpetrators in said groups and the common conditions that stores share when a crime occurs.    

While you’ll still need physical security measures, with the Agilence platform you’ll have one place to track, view, and analyze all your data around incidents such as flash mob thefts and ORC crimes, allowing you to record incident details, identify patterns, and take actionable measures to prevent further theft. And with Agilence Store Audit and Case Management, you can follow up with in-store personnel to ensure they’re completing preventative measures on the ground. 


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