Social media is frequently used by teens as a means of organizing large events where teens can be part of something bigger than themselves. In the comfort of a large group, they can cut loose and behave in ways that would make them self-conscious were it not for the anonymity the group. Known as flash mobs, these groups often assemble to sing, dance, engage in a pillow fight or perform publicity stunts. Flash mobs have been around for over ten years, but a newer and more dangerous trend, flash robs, has begun to emerge.
Flash robs occur when a group of teens gather on the street or at a mall and rush inside a retail store. The teens then grab as much merchandise as they can and leave the vicinity as quickly as they can. Flash robbers have targeted newsstands, convenience stores and upscale jewelry and clothing stores. To put a stop to any behavior that would turn a public assembly into a flash robbery, the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) Internet Unit uses social media and public domain searches to determine if there is a risk of criminal activity.
Flash robs are generally leaderless, spontaneous organizations that are difficult to predict, ban, and control. They multiply in numbers exponentially using social media and challenge law enforcement as lawmakers look for long-term solutions to this new form of crime without infringing on civil rights and privacy. The National Retail Federation (NRF) says that the safety of employees and customers is of utmost importance during a flash rob and offers retailers these prevention tips:
· Retailers and law enforcement agencies should always share information with each other if a flash rob is anticipated;
· Social networking sites should be monitored when possible for any mention of a store’s name; and
· Sightings of large groups congregating outside of a store should be reported to the store’s loss prevention officer(s).