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TJX launches fierce fight against retail crime

Investigators and other tactics used

By Jenn Abelson
Globe Staff / January 12, 2011

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Framingham discounter TJX Cos., which suffered a massive data security breach several years ago, is using company investigators to find people suspected of being involved in organized retail crime by following them to homes, pawn shops, and other locations, as well as by filming activity inside and outside stores.

The retailer also is conducting reverse stings and using other aggressive tactics as part of a national effort to shut down increasingly sophisticated criminal groups, Eliot J. Green, TJX’s national investigations director, said yesterday during a presentation at the National Retail Federation conference in New York.

Organized retail crime typically involves individuals working together to steal goods from stores. Sometimes the merchandise is sold online. In other cases, it is returned to stores for cash or taken to pawn shops. On occasion, such group activity includes theft of customers’ credit card numbers, as happened with TJX.

The company said that whenever possible, it will work with law enforcement officials to bring charges and prosecute cases.

“You don’t want to just catch one cell. . . . You have to work your way up the organization to take out the head of the snake,’’ Green said. “We do controlled buys, stings — really anything that is legal but also ethical.’’

Green detailed various approaches taken by TJX — which runs retail chains such as T.J. Maxx and Marshalls — to stem crime. He did not mention the theft of tens of millions of credit card numbers from TJX’s computer network by hackers between 2005 and 2007. After the talk, Green declined to explain why he did not address the security breach.

Merchants across the country have been devoting more resources to tackling large-scale criminal activity, which results in annual losses of between $15 billion and $30 billion, according to Joseph J. LaRocca, senior asset protection advisor for the National Retail Federation, a Washington, D.C., trade group.

“These crime units continue to evolve and become more sophisticated,’’ LaRocca said.

TJX has about 52 investigators spread across the United States, as well as a remote team that can be dispatched to communities where criminal activity is detected. The company often turns down offers of restitution from suspects if it means they get to stay out of jail, Green said.

The retailer’s strategy of “prosecution and incarceration’’ differs from the approach taken by many retailers, said Green, who served as chief of the Massachusetts attorney general’s Insurance and Unemployment Fraud Division before joining TJX.

“If we recover $10,000 in a case or $100,000, it’s nice, but is that going to stop the activity?’’ Green said.

Jenn Abelson can be reached at abelson@globe.com.

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