The economy is being blamed not only for high prices and joblessness but for a sharp increase locally in shoplifting, bad-check writing and credit card fraud that last year cost Washington businesses $526 million and each adult consumer $300, according to a local business group.
Shoplifting alone rose 15 percent from Aug. 1, 1979, through July 31, 1980, and cost merchants $496 million, according to the Greater Washington Board of Trade. Bad-check writing increased by 14 percent to $25 million, and fraudulent use of credit cards rose by 9.5 percent to $5 million in annual losses, the board of trade's report said.
At a news conference last week, Lewis C. Shealey, chairman of the board of trade's anticrime campaign, was asked whether the increase in shoplifting was due to economic conditions. Previous increases since 1975 have been between 2 percent and 8 percent a year. During the recession of 1973 and 1974, the increase was 46 percent.
"I hate to keep blaming everything on the economy," but when the economy worsens so does the incidence of those retail crimes, Shealey said.
The board of trade began its annual anticrime campaign to stem thefts during the most popular stealing season, from the back-to-school fall buying campaigns through the Christmas holiday shopping season.
"The parents want the kids well-dressed," and goods in stores are more colorful and better-displayed, Shealey said.
However, he was asked whether the annual campaign was effective since the incidences of those crimes continued to rise.
"Every year but one there was a decline in arrests during this season," Shealey said, "I'm afraid to say if we didn't run this campaign that [the incidence of the crimes] would escalate to."
Perhaps one of the jurisdictions to hit shoplifters the hardest is Arlington County where Commonwealth's Attorney Henry Hudson said "anyone convicted will spend 24 hours in the Arlington County jail." As a result, the rate of shoplifting repeaters "has been decreased substantially," he said.
According to the board of trade report, about one-third of Washington area shoplifters and bad-check writers are women homemakers between the ages of 25 and 35. One-fourth of the credit-card thieves are 25-year-old women white-collar workers, the report said. Professional thieves account for only 7 percent of shoplifting and bad-check writing and 20 percent of credit-card thefts.