Fairfax County police officers are working in teams — in uniform and in regular clothes — in malls and other shopping areas in hopes of curbing shoplifting, ID theft and other crimes that tend to spike during the holidays.
The department's Retail Anti-Theft Teams, or RATTs, are activated every year on Black Friday and work through the holiday season.
They look for phony credit cards, stolen identification and shoplifting scams, according to a news release. They target all shoplifters, with particular attention to "professionals" who work in teams to distract store employees in order to get away with goods, the release states.
"We do want shoppers to feel safe in Fairfax County and have that security in knowing that whether they see officers or not, those officers are there in an undercover capacity — and often they look nothing like officers," police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell told Patch.
Every police station in Fairfax County will put together a team. Areas of the county without malls like Seven Corners or Baileys Crossroads will have RATTs active in major shopping areas, spokesman Eddy Azcarate told Patch.
This week, the department showed off its effort in Tysons Corner, which has a new police unit thanks to rapid growth.
Last year, RATT officers in the McLean Police District arrested 81 people and handed out 63 felony charges and 71 misdemeanor charges. They recovered or seized more than $76,000 in stolen property.
Information for other Fairfax County police districts was not available.
RATT officers work closely with mall and store management. Usually, the help is welcome, Azcarate said, because the presence can sometimes prevent shoplifting or even work on resolving traffic issues.
Caldwell offered several tips for holiday shoppers:
- Pay with a credit or debit card to avoid carrying cash.
- Keep cash in your front pocket.
- If your credit card is lost, stolen or misused, notify the card issuer immediately.
- Keep an eye on your credit card activity. Sometimes thieves use stolen information for smaller purchases, like meals or gas.
- Keep a record of all your credit card numbers in a safe place.
- Avoid overloading yourself with packages in order to have clear visibility.
- Don't keep gifts or other purchases in plain view in your vehicle.
- Be aware of strangers who may try to distract you as part of a scam.
"Working closely with store and mall management and loss prevention staff and security, the holiday RATT officers are committed to keeping scofflaws away from Fairfax County retailers and holiday shoppers," the news release states.