A top United States Department of Homeland Security official has issued a warning that organized retail crime poses an "absolute threat" to public safety.
Raul Aguilar, who oversees international organized crime cases for the agency, addressed incidents in which groups of criminals steal prized items from retail stores and sell them online or through other means.
"These criminal networks, they may be full-time drug traffickers, but they see an opportunity to work with a crew that's already stealing," said Aguilar via ABC News. "And because it's hundreds of millions of dollars, [the money they make] can easily be diverted for [other] kinds of activities."
Aguilar's comments months after an incident at a Home Depot store in New York in which four masked men were seen on surveillance footage pushing carts with nearly hundreds of boxes of high-value items out of the store.
"Organized retail crime is what I call theft for greed, not theft for need," said Scott Glenn, vice president for asset protection at The Home Depot, which has been a main target of the thefts, via ABC News. "[But] they don't just come to a Home Depot and then decide to go home ... they go to Target, they go to Lowe's, they go to CVS, they go anywhere."
Glenn described the groups behind the retail thefts as being "like your traditional organized crime families," which Aguilar said could be as few as two or three people working together.