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Opioid addiction brings a spike in Kent County shoplifting cases

The ongoing opioid crisis that is straining resources in Kent County has led to a spike in shoplifting as addicts look to support expensive habits.

The ongoing opioid crisis that is straining resources in Kent County has led to more shoplifting cases as addicts look to support expensive habits.

“Retail fraud seems to be exploding and I think a lot of that has to do with opioid addiction and addiction in general,’’ Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said. “They’ll steal a TV and go sell it on the street or they’ll trade it for the drugs.’’

The prosecutor’s office last year handled 1,617 retail fraud cases, a 20 percent increase from 2007. Retail fraud prosecutions in Kent County are up 74 percent from 2002.

Big Box stores, Becker said, are a preferred target.

Nearly four-dozen accused shoplifters had appearances scheduled in Kent County courtrooms this week. About 30 percent were for first-degree retail fraud, a five-year felony.

“It really is a driving factor in a good portion of crime,’’ Grandville Police Chief Dan Steere said of opioid addiction. “It’s not only shoplifting, it’s burglaries, it’s other types of larcenies and an occasional robbery.’’

A popular avenue for thieves is to steal items from large retailers and return them for in-store credit, which is typically loaded onto a gift card. The gift card is then sold or exchanged for drugs.

People supporting a drug habit are not typically involved in the more sophisticated organized retail fraud operations, Becker said.

Losses from stores due to shoplifting and employee theft cost U.S. retailers nearly $49 billion in 2016, according to a National Retail Security Survey.

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