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Exclusive: Long Island A Hot Spot Of 'Organized, Brazen' High-End Shoplifting

COMMACK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) - We are seeing a significant spike in shoplifting across the nation, and here at home.

They are not petty crimes. Experts say they are highly organized, and retailers are losing millions of dollars in high-end goods.

On Long Island, one beauty chain store has been hit more than two dozen times in recent months.

As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff exclusively reports, shoplifting out of control - baskets filled with thousands of dollars in perfumes - walked out of Long Island stores.

Ulta Beauty stores in Suffolk County have been hit more than 25 times this year - one of them twice in a day.

"I'd say it's organized, its brazen, and it's a trend nationally, and certainly a trend out here," said Suffolk County Police Chief of Detectives Mathew Lewis.

Experts say this isn't like food swiped to feed a family - it's organized retail crime. Ben Dugan, the president of the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail, says nationwide theft is up 30% since COVID hit.

"What we are talking about are professional thieves who steal high dollar product and product in bulk for resale on unregulated ecommerce," Dugan said.

And he says Long Island is a hot spot.

"The largest organized retail crime criminal organizations are in the New York City metropolitan area and more specifically, Long Island," he said.

Dugan says stolen goods have been tracked from Long Island across the internet.

Similar crimes are making waves nationwide. Brazen thieves fled two West Coast Neiman Marcus stores with arms filled with high-end handbags. Thirteen Walgreens are closing in San Francisco.

Experts blame a perfect storm: More demand online for products, masks making it harder to identify suspects, and bail reform.

"It's not a violent crime, so it's subject to release at the precinct. There is very little ramifications for these people," Lewis said.

Retailers often instruct employees not to engage, and stay safe.

"Why would a retailer put their employees at risk to confront a potentially, and likely, dangerous shoplifter?" said Barbara Staib, president of the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention.

Staib says harsher penalties are needed.

"Shoplifting steals from all of us. It steals tax dollars. Every piece of merchandise that's stolen is lost tax dollars," she said.

"It is organized crime," Lewis said. "They get 25%, the middle man gets 30, and then the online marketplace seller sells it for about 50% of its value."

Next week, Congress gets in on the issue. The Inform Consumers Act requires online merchants to verify the identity of a third party seller to curb the flow of stolen merchandise. The bill is supported by a long list of retailers, including Ulta.

CBS2 reached out to Ulta Beauty, and the company did not respond to requests for comment.

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