Luxury shops in San Francisco's Union Square have been particular targets in the surge of "flash mob" robberies Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP
business

Flash mob thefts terrorize U.S. retailers ahead of Christmas

54 Comments
By Paul HANDLEY

U.S. retailers are adding security and locking up goods after flash mob heists involving dozens of thieves at once stunned luxury stores in the San Francisco area and beyond, as the holiday shopping season opens.

In the most shocking of recent thefts, around 80 masked people in 25 cars raided a high-end Nordstrom department store in Walnut Creek, California east of San Francisco last Saturday, plundering its first-floor luxury goods counters in just a few minutes before fleeing.

That took place one day after 40 people drove up and swarmed a Louis Vuitton store in San Francisco's Union Square, emptying its shelves in seconds before jumping in cars to speed away.

And near Chicago, also hit by a series of similar thefts, a gang of 14 swept into a Louis Vuitton store in the Oak Brook suburb, snatching more than $100,000 worth of luxury bags and garments. It was the third such attack on a Chicago-area Vuitton outlet in a month.

Retailers around the country are taking notice and precautions against possible copycat hits as the sheer size of the robbery gangs and their ability to plan secretly have made them nearly impossible to halt.

"The level of organized retail theft we are seeing is simply unacceptable," California Governor Gavin Newsom said Tuesday. "Businesses and customers should feel safe while doing their holiday shopping."

The thefts come at a key moment on the shopping calendar.

Thursday was Thanksgiving, and the day after the holiday has been nicknamed "Black Friday," the traditional kickoff to America's frenzied Christmas shopping season.

Newsom ordered a special task force in the California Highway Patrol to work with local officials to address the theft problem.

Despite the action, the number of flash mob thefts multiplied, with a jewelry store in Hayward near San Francisco hit by a group of between 30 and 40.

In nearby Oakland a streetwear store was cleaned out: security video shows more than 30 masked, hooded people squeezing into the small shop, grabbing collectable shoes and garb and rushing out in under a minute.

Flash mob thefts, also dubbed "flash robs," have been around for years, but have accelerated in 2021, besetting owners of small pharmacies, mid-level chain clothing stores and top-end luxury goods alike.

But the sheer size and speed of the Nordstrom attack in Walnut Creek stunned many.

"I wouldn't even characterize that as organized crime, that was domestic terrorism," Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association told Fox40 television in Sacramento.

Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminologist at the University of Baltimore, said there is nothing indicating that overall retail theft in the country has risen significantly.

But he said the spread of video footage of the heists on news and social media may have inspired others to copy them.

"It's brazen, it's graphic," he said.

Ross said that police, already burdened by rising murder cases and other violent crime, "just can't keep up" with the volume of stolen goods and the people who resell them.

What remained unclear are the ties if any between the multiple group thefts in the San Francisco area, how the participants communicate and coordinate, and how any organized fencing operation might work.

Only three people have been confirmed arrested in the Walnut Creek robbery, out of the estimated 80-plus people who took part.

On Tuesday San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced felony charges against nine people in store robberies, including the Louis Vuitton store in Union Square.

Michelin, though, said that California could need tougher laws against this kind of crime, where social media appears to be used to coordinate the culprits.

"We're going to have those uncomfortable conversations and have a look at some of the laws on the books," she told Fox40. "Obviously they aren't working."

© 2021 AFP

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.


54 Comments

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Flash mob thefts, also dubbed "flash robs," have been around for years, but have accelerated in 2021, besetting owners of small pharmacies, mid-level chain clothing stores and top-end luxury goods alike.

Coincident with the curtailing of enhanced unemployment and stimulus checks and the effort to force service workers, often people of color, back to service jobs where they will be forced to interact with the anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers for little pay.

-9 ( +6 / -15 )

This is the result of progressive politics that forever holds people of color suspended in a state of victimhood. Policy makers who suffer from white guilt believe that it’s because of their own supremacy that people of color don’t have any agency over their own lives and should be relegated to a lower moral standard. Hence it’s okay to steal because of what happened in past eras; it’s okay to rob and beat people because you are poor. You don’t have the ability to choose between right and wrong. It’s all relative anyway, they say. So the policy makers, believing that they are the superior saviors of the inferior people of color who don’t know the difference between right and wrong, passed a law restricting what constitutes grand larceny and basically making shoplifting a petty misdemeanor. It’s no wonder this is happening. And the bleeding heart liberal policy makers will do mental gymnastics and “academise” ways to apologize for it.

3 ( +18 / -15 )

Organised crime.

13 ( +14 / -1 )

This is the result of progressive politics that forever holds people of color suspended in a state of victimhood

Progressive politics that gave birth to civil rights movement. That have come under regressive attack through the actions of the previous administration, and have barely improved now.

You don’t have the ability to choose between right and wrong. It’s all relative anyway, they say.

People are learning lessons from the level of criminality in American politics. Who could not have come away with that after the last administration?

-2 ( +10 / -12 )

I expect they will blame Facebook for this too.

Organised crime has always been domestic terrorism.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Progressive politics that gave birth to civil rights movement. 

The very same politics which now undermine the civil rights movement by sowing division.

7 ( +11 / -4 )

From slavery to segregation lead to the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement was a struggle for justice and equality for African Americans that took place mainly in the 1950s and 1960s.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Dismissing shoplifting as nothing serious; defunding and ostracizing police; lowering bails for dangerous offenders; all of the chaos throughout the year and especially this past week have demonstrated how wrong the progressive democrats are bad for the country. They said they had to get rid of you know who at any cost; society’s now paying the cost.

6 ( +13 / -7 )

This has little to do with poverty and a LOT to do with anarchy. Poor people don't DRIVE to high end shops to commit their crimes, not do they co-ordinate their attacks, nor do they steal perfume/bags/shoes. This is pure lawlessness, made possible by the feckless guilt-ridden progressives who infest city governments.

Until laws are enforced, until businesses are allowed to actually protect themselves from these crimes, then they will only get worse.

9 ( +15 / -6 )

The robbed stores will have their stock insured against loss. Most of those stores need to increase their security and the ability to instantly lock the doors while the mob is charging in.

There have been arrests so maybe the authorities can learn who is organising the raids and buying the stolen items.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

Agreed, zichi, and they need to be hit with dye bombs, and concerned citizens should shoot out their tires.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The robbed stores will have their stock insured against loss.

Sure, at a cost of increased premiums.

Most of those stores need to increase their security and the ability to instantly lock the doors

Another expense to themselves. And then there’s the threat to personal security.

At some point, if I were a store owner I might start thinking to myself “Why bother?”.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Bungle

The robbed stores will have their stock insured against loss.

Sure, at a cost of increased premiums.

Most of those stores need to increase their security and the ability to instantly lock the doors

Another expense to themselves. And then there’s the threat to personal security.

At some point, if I were a store owner I might start thinking to myself “Why bother?”.

They are rich high-class products with rich high-class clients who do not even ask the prices. Theft is theft and those caught will be charged and then discover who is organising the hits. They are not mama and papa shops.

nandakandamanda

Agreed, zichi, and they need to be hit with dye bombs, and concerned citizens should shoot out their tires.

Bystanders should not involve themselves. The raiders could be armed.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

@Zichi

Flash mob thefts, also dubbed "flash robs," have been around for years, but have accelerated in 2021, besetting owners of small pharmacies, mid-level chain clothing stores and top-end luxury goods alike.

This is what I latched onto. Even if, in some cases, the effects of the robberies can be mitigated, they sure ain’t Robin Hood and his band of merry men.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

BungleToday  11:49 am JST

@Zichi

*Flash mob thefts, also dubbed "flash robs," have been around for years, but have accelerated in 2021, besetting owners of small pharmacies, mid-level chain clothing stores and top-end luxury goods alike.*

This is what I latched onto. Even if, in some cases, the effects of the robberies can be mitigated, they sure ain’t Robin Hood and his band of merry men.

I do not call them Robin Hood bands. I have called them organised crime which it is. Someone is planning them and also buying the luxury items for resales at a huge profit. Or they could be smuggled to a country like China and sold there.

Can you imagine like here in Japan so many shops are open fronts with products outside? I comment to my wife that in the UK those products would vanish very quickly.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Sure, these places have insurance. But often the shops just don't reopen- they move. Not to mention the trauma and injury caused the staff when these jackals rip through their workplace. Insurance can't help with that. This isn't simple shoplifting. It is assault, battery, and robbery at weapon point.

As to hiring security, it is a joke. Private security isn't allowed to actually stop or apprehend anyone stealing. The businesses are deathly afraid of the lawsuits and bad publicity that would come if a security guard actually tackled a thief. Plus, even IF one thief gets tackled, the other 20 will either get away, or pile on the guard and assault them so their friend can escape.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Until laws are enforced, until businesses are allowed to actually protect themselves from these crimes, then they will only get worse.

Maybe they should hire a certain young guy from Wisconsin to head up security. That should keep the thieves at bay.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

High-end shops don't close or move. They restock.

4 Things Security Officers Have Legal Authority To Do

https://smartsecuritypros.com/security-officer-legal-powers/

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

Can you imagine like here in Japan so many shops are open fronts with products outside? I comment to my wife that in the UK those products would vanish very quickly.

Vending machines would be the first to go. Note that in Japanese, there are no words for Scouser and scally.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Bungle

Can you imagine like here in Japan so many shops are open fronts with products outside? I comment to my wife that in the UK those products would vanish very quickly.

Vending machines would be the first to go. Note that in Japanese, there are no words for Scouser and scally.

Are you throwing insults? You do not seem to know the meaning of "Scouser"

Are you intentionally insulting us?

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

"I wouldn't even characterize that as organized crime, that was domestic terrorism," Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association told Fox40 television in Sacramento.

That's what it is.

The unfortunate response from the far left that we see to these types of crimes is an outcry of excuses as to why these domestic terrorists are somehow forced into circumstances that they have to commit these crimes. Or almost just as bizarre, the progressive left will protest the "excessive bail" set for these domestic terrorists, and even start GoFundMe sites for them!

zichiToday  12:32 pm JST

Are you intentionally insulting us?

I don't believe that term can be directed towards British subjects.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

"I wouldn't even characterize that as organized crime, that was domestic terrorism," Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association told Fox40 television in Sacramento.

Theft, no matter how large, is not terrorism because the actors are not trying to intimidate or coerce the civilian population or the government.

Words have meanings for a reason.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

It's an organised crime because a person/party are organising the flash mobs to hit the luxury stores and even told what items to steal. The organisers buy the stolen items and resell them.

Nothing related to terrorism and plain non sense.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

More Flash Rob than Flash Mob.

In a report, the NRF noted, "multiple offender crimes tend to involve groups or gangs of juveniles who already know each other, which does not earn them the term 'flash mob'."

Has been happening in Brazil since the 1990s.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

RegBilkToday  01:28 pm JST

The unfortunate response from the far left 

Here comes the far left responses.

P. SmithToday  01:40 pm JST

Theft, no matter how large, is not terrorism because the actors are not trying to intimidate or coerce the civilian population or the government.

Words have meanings for a reason.

Looks there are some words of which the meanings are not understood!

zichiToday  01:44 pm JST

Nothing related to terrorism and plain non sense.

Another far leftist sticking up for these types of acts.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

The robbed stores will have their stock insured against loss.

People are quick to dismiss vandalism and theft with excuses of “the businesses have insurance,” but insurance isn’t a magic wand. Insurance may cover some damages, but it never compensates fully. Even if insurance were to pay 100 percent for smashed display cases and lost stock, does it pay for enhanced security in the future? Does it pay for lost customers who are now afraid to patronize those businesses? Does insurance pay for the hiring and training of new employees because good employees quit out of fear and stress over the thefts? Does it pay for the lower legal demand for that brand’s goods because cheaper options are now on the black market? Does insurance pay for the inevitable hike in insurance rates from next year? Crime costs the store greatly, even with insurance.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The problem is caused by the political party in power.

All of those crimes occurred in Democrat controlled states and cities.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Times are tough for these shops. This is the Detroit version of setting fire to houses to collect insurance. There used to be a lot 20 or more years ago on the east side (Van Steuban). Some of the abandoned homes were burned down by the homeless trying to keep warm. Rumors say the owners are behind this.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

zichiToday 

Nothing related to terrorism and plain non sense.

Another far leftist sticking up for these types of acts.

More misquoted comments when I have not defended these crimes.

P. Smith

agreed.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Common thread in most of these thefts: local lawmakers and prosecutors have effectively decriminalized theft. Petty theft has been downgraded to a misdemeanor. No one is held in jail on bail. No one is charged with felonies. No one is put on trial.

Petty theft is essentially a ticketable offense, and police aren’t even bothering with that in most cases. There are too many reports of theft. Police budgets have been cut, while violent felonies are also on the rise. Police can’t afford to track down misdemeanors when they have stacks of felony reports to deal with. Even when they do catch one of these thieves, the person is back on the street same day.

There is a reason prosecutors, police, and lawmakers got tough on petty crimes in the late-1980s and early-1990s with cash bails, mandatory minimum sentencing, three-strikes laws, broken-windows policing, and the like. Yes, those tactics sometimes produce unfair results, but they are responsible for the dramatic decrease in most types of crime during the last two decades. Even Joe Biden has forgotten why he wrote a crime bill in the 1990s with those measures in it because recent crime had been so low. Take away those measures, and crime storms back with a vengeance.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Zichi; it is not so simple as just "restock" for the shops hit by these criminals. There is usually thousands of dollars of property damage to repair, days/weeks closed, loss of customers (who wants to shop somewhere thay may be robbed?).

You are also forgetting the human cost. The staff who were working when these crimes happened were surely traumatized at the least, often assaulted, and threatened with weapons. They also deserve to work in a safe environment.

Security can do little, I checked the link you posted and it did not really have any useful information. My ideal would be that the shopkeepers/staff blow a few holes in these creeps, pour encourager les autre to rethink their choices in life. But that is just a happy dream.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

zichiToday  02:22 pm JST

More misquoted comments when I have not defended these crimes.

It is exactly what you wrote. Here, one more time:

zichiToday  01:44 pm JST

Nothing related to terrorism and plain non sense.

AttilathehungryToday  02:39 pm JST

Zichi; it is not so simple as just "restock" for the shops hit by these criminals. There is usually thousands of dollars of property damage to repair, days/weeks closed, loss of customers (who wants to shop somewhere thay may be robbed?).

As many stores in the San Francisco area are closing because of excessive theft, along with the weakening of laws that were used to prosecute these people, this wave of domestic terrorism needs to be dealt with harshly.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Attilathehungry

Zichi; it is not so simple as just "restock" for the shops hit by these criminals. There is usually thousands of dollars of property damage to repair, days/weeks closed, loss of customers (who wants to shop somewhere thay may be robbed?).

It more easy for rich luxury goods companies to deal with the Flash Robs than a mama papa operation. I do not condone these thefts. Fortunately, I have not read of any staff member being injured.

Shopping in any store in America, the gas stand or little wine store can end up with you being shot by an armed robber. Happens across the nation.

You are also forgetting the human cost. The staff who were working when these crimes happened were surely traumatized at the least, often assaulted, and threatened with weapons. They also deserve to work in a safe environment.

Do you have a link providing evidence? We all deserve to work in a safe environment. I am not forgetting the human costs.

Security can do little, I checked the link you posted and it did not really have any useful information. My ideal would be that the shopkeepers/staff blow a few holes in these creeps, pour encourager les autre to rethink their choices in life. But that is just a happy dream.

Security in banks and armoured cars can fire at thieves.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Why does crime happen?

The divide between the super-poor and super-rich in America grew during last years pandemic. The widest gap of any other country.

Gunshot homicides cost the country billions of dollars every year. $280 billion per year but very little is never done about guns.

https://abcnews.go.com/US/bear-burden-gun-violence-costs-america-280-billion/story?id=80245349

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Flash mobs or flash robs are nothing new. Been happening for more than 10 years.

in 2019, 'Flash mob' steals $30,000 in merchandise from North Face store in Wisconsin.

https://abc7news.com/flash-mob-video-robbery-pleasant-prairie-wisconsin-surveillance/5380178/

Apple stores have also seen flash mobs for iPhones and iPads.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

In nearby Oakland a streetwear store was cleaned out: security video shows more than 30 masked, hooded people squeezing into the small shop, grabbing collectable shoes and garb and rushing out in under a minute.

They are just children. I respect any one who invests their money to open any kind of shop in Oakland. Good luck.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Amazing how everything these days gets totally politicized, right from the start of these comments too. And you guys go on and on about right and left. As Zichi pointed out, this is nothing new. It's not even isolated to the US, a quick search turns up a 2011 headline: Ottawa police fear 'flash robs' on the rise. This is nothing but thugs using social media for organized crime.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

It more easy for rich luxury goods companies to deal with the Flash Robs than a mama papa operation. I do not condone these thefts. Fortunately, I have not read of any staff member being injured.

It doesn’t matter what store is being robbed. Do you think the looters would differentiate between a high end store or a low end store? A new car or an old car? An old person or a young person? Do you think they care when they enter the store who is in there? It could be children. It could be old people.

If any of us were in a store robbed like this then we would be having flashbacks for weeks after.....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

kurisupisu

The latest flash robs have a "shopping list of items" to rob and deliver to their masters. They are not looters but they are armed robbers and robbers. The post isn't about looting which happens during a riot or war.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

I specifically mentioned a law in California that shoplifting of items with a value less than $950 would be considered a misdemeanor.

I also mentioned the defunding of police in these cities that are now experiencing these crime waves.

Police should go after violent criminals. These are just children. You will understand when one of them is arrested and his/her grade school photo is shown. Problem is these stores offering goods at exorbitant prices.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Reckless,

Please define what age range you classify as children?

Also, I understand that a Gucci bag is expensive, but should that really be a reason used to justify theft?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Please define what age range you classify as children?

You will understand when you see the gentle pictures offered to the press by the defendants' families.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Flash mob thefts terrorize U.S. retailers ahead of Christmas

If this model gets widely adopted, fundamentally it is the end of retail shopping. (As the insurers will start refuse to insure shops.) I can see how Amazon is happy about this.... otherwise nobody I think.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I arrived in Walnut Creek on Saturday for the holidays. Took the train from the airport and a guy was lighting up drugs on a piece of tinfoil on his skateboard with one of those long barbecue lighters on the train. Then got to my parents house and heard the news of the Louis Vuitton being robbed in San Francisco and then the Nordstrom (equivalent to like Isetan) in Walnut Creek. Can’t wait to go back to Tokyo! The Bay Area is going into the toilet

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Can you buy anything in a luxury item store for less than $950. The total of their hauls combined total much more.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

The Bay Area is going into the toilet

You have a buffer in the Caldecott tunnels. When they start doing in your neighborhood I'll start to think that.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

So MANY great things about our beloved Bay Area @qazwsx 5:10pm but SF has literally become a “toilet” for many years on. (“Poop” maps are available)

-@qazwsx 5:10pm: “I arrived in Walnut Creek on Sat for the holidays. Took the train from the airport …

… The Bay Area is going into the toilet” -

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

the actors are not trying to intimidate or coerce the civilian population or the government.

Must be that expensive collage degree at work again. The educated!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

College.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Liberal politics enable the criminal behavior. "Looting" has been deemed a racist term even though the perpetrators come from all races.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

looting

noun [ U ]

UK /ˈluː.tɪŋ/ US /ˈluː.t̬ɪŋ/

the activity of stealing from shops during a violent event.

Though typically the term is applied to war-time, it is also applied during emergencies (natural disasters) and other times of "unrest" which includes the atmosphere in parts of the USA.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

looting

noun [ U ]

UK /ˈluː.tɪŋ/ US /ˈluː.t̬ɪŋ/

the activity of stealing from shops during a violent event.

... also known as "peaceful protest".

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Some of the fine folks doing such crime are seen :

https://twitter.com/KPIXtv/status/1463706198729916419?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1463706198729916419%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_c10&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.breitbart.com%2Fcrime%2F2021%2F11%2F25%2Fapple-nordstrom-stores-hit-in-last-minute-smash-and-grab-robbery-in-california%2F

0 ( +2 / -2 )

California reaping what it sows.

Something tells me theres not a lot of this going on in Texas....

1 ( +2 / -1 )

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