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$80K LBM Swindle, Shrinkage Report Show COVID Hasn't Stopped Criminals

An $80,000 swindling case in Minnesota and a new national report on retail shrinkage serve as reminders this month that construction supply companies need to remain vigilant against losses even as they deal with COVID-19 issues.

The swindling case happened in Wadena, MN, where a judge on July 17 ordered former Merickel Lumber employee Brenda Rae Bakken to pay $79,036.10 back to the lumberyard, pay a $1,000 fine to the court, serve 45 days in the county jail, and devote 40 hours to community service. She also must remain on supervised probation for 20 years, stop consuming alcohol or controlled substances, and complete a gambling assessment, the Wadena Pioneer Journal reported.

Bakken worked at Merickel as an accounts receivable officer from June 2014 through December 2018. She began stealing funds in June 2016, the newspaper reported, not only from Merickel but also from her own relatives. Some of the money taken from customer accounts had to be repaid by reducing employees' profit-sharing checks, Merickel said.

In her statement during the sentencing, Bakken referenced a gambling addiction "and how she had lost control of her life for a period during the death of family members," the newspaper said.

The shrinkage news comes via the National Retail Federation's 2020 Retail Security Survey (NRSS). It's based on responses from loss prevention and asset protection professionals representing 69 companies nationally. Of those only 4.4% were from the home improvement, building, hardware, lumber and garden supply sectors.

The survey estimated that the dollar value of shrinkage today equates to 1.62% of a retailer's bottom line. Shrinkage includes shoplifting, gift card fraud and--increasingly--cybercrime.

"While the 2020 NRSS focuses on the previous year’s data, this year has certainly brought new challenges and uncertainties as well, from health concerns related to COVID-19 to societal unrest," the report's authors wrote. "[Loss prevention] professionals are more than ready to meet those evolving challenges, even if their own departments need to develop new skillsets. In some cases, though, they are an underused resource when it comes to facing a new threat of cybercrime."

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