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A criminal charge on your record, definitely not fashionable.

The nation’s biggest season of giving and receiving may be over, and with a still sluggish economy, there is no shortage of huge sales and promotions – or retail theft.

Retail theft – or shoplifting – won’t be going out of style anytime soon. In the past year alone, high-end retail chain and boutique stores across the country as well as around Columbus have reported a steady increase in theft crimes.

During 2011 in Franklin County, there were 4802 theft arrests, according to an annual Franklin County Municipal Court report. And these are only the ones that were caught and reported.

I have seen a marked increase in shoplifting from the nicer retail stores and boutiques in and around central Ohio. The items people try to take and their reasons for trying to take them are across the board. Not many of them are thinking about the consequences until after they’re caught.

The prevalence of theft crimes can be blamed on the poor economy and growing organized retail crime, according to the 24th Annual Retail Theft Survey conducted by loss prevention consultants Jack Hayes International, Inc.

Organized crime, specifically, has become a rampant $12 billion dollar problem in which no retailer can be immune. As recently as this Christmas, over 100 people were arrested at a Skokie, Illinois mall for stealing mass amounts of expensive designer clothing, which would have been resold at a reduced price online or on the black market. The Oregonian reported that the “brazen looting of alcohol” is a growing problem as well, after one gang’s frequent booze raids over a 5 month period totaled a whopping $10,000 in Southwest Washington.

National Research Federation Vice President of Loss and Prevention Rich Mellor explained that reselling stolen merchandise is a growing commercial enterprise. “Criminals have become more desperate and brazen in their efforts, stopping at nothing to get a hold on large quantities of merchandise,” said Mellor.

According to the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention, one in 11 people are shoplifters, and there is no demographic profile of a typical shoplifter.

Shoplifting or theft is a serious offense, with potentially life-altering consequences that in some circumstances cannot be removed from one’s criminal record. Theft offenses are considered crimes in which one’s conduct is dishonest and deprived of good morals. Oftentimes additional charges are filed, particularly if someone is uncooperative or provides false information.

In the State of Ohio, a theft can either be classified as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the value of the merchandise. The Ohio Revised Code indicates that typically if the stolen goods are under $1000, the charge is a misdemeanor with zero to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. If the value of the stolen goods is greater than $1000, it is considered a fifth-degree felony, punishable by six to twelve months in prison and up to $2,500 in fines.

Everything has a price – whether through one’s hard earned dollars or stolen, the latter potentially resulting in fines and time in jail or prison. At the end of the day, stealing isn’t stylish; that sparkly pair of Jimmy Choos loses its luster and a new high definition flat screen just doesn’t seem so crisp for the price of jeopardizing one’s criminal record and years of embarrassment and guilt.

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