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Most Stolen Products: Brighton Jewelry

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Build a devoted and well-accessorized fan base and the shoplifters will follow.

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Here's the scene: a sexy black vinyl catsuit-clad jewel thief is suspended upside down, hanging from the ceiling of the Smithsonian Museum on a high-tension cable. She performs inhuman feats of gymnastics to avoid tripping the web of high-security laser beams surrounding her. Her mission: capture the legendary 45.52-carat ocean-blue Hope Diamond.

Cut to 63-year-old pantsuit-attired Judith Crookston stuffing $45 silver-plated Brighton jewelry into her purse at Warren's Gifts in Clearwater, Florida, under the eye of the shop's security camera.

While the Hollywood version of the cat burglar vixen is far more glamorous and leagues more gripping, it's the card-carrying AARP member in search of tacky fashion trinkets that is the yawn-producing reality of jewelry theft.

The Brighton Company, which launched in 1991 with a single collection of belts, has evolved into a multi-accessory product line that boasts everything from crystal-encrusted sunglasses to personalized handbags bearing your family's precious Christmas card photo. The company has established a faithful following of head-to-toe accessorized women who had, until Brighton, been forced to suffer the humiliation of walking around in strappy sandals that didn't coordinate with their lipstick cases.

The driving force behind the frequent theft of the signature heart-adorned Brighton collection is simply its popularity in the retail market coupled with established avenues for resale. "Shoplifters know which items are 'hot or in' and therefore more easily sold after stealing," says Mark R. Doyle, president of Jack L. Hayes International, a loss prevention/shrinkage control consulting business. "This is a highly desirable product right now and... if there is demand then there is a market for shoplifters to sell these items."

If the black market for a particular item is lucrative enough, contraband can be as modest and unassuming as paint brushes. When Doyle met a professional shoplifter who specialized in the common hardware store tool, he questioned the thief on his niche, to which the thief replied, "Have you checked the price of paint brushes recently?" The criminal had found a demand for discounted, high-end paint brushes in the contractor trade and successfully capitalized on it.

Nearly 6,000 boutiques and more than 100 Brighton Collectibles stores sell Brighton merchandise across the country. The QVC (LINTA) website has a Brighton-designated section and an eBay (EBAY) search for Brighton jewelry yielded nearly 9,000 items from 283 different eBay stores. But according to Doyle, it's precisely Internet auction sites like eBay that have spawned an enormous marketplace for stolen Brighton baubles.

The myriad jewelry tables set up in neighborhoods all over Manhattan, Chicago, LA, and other big cities should also have prospective shoppers suspicious of their origins. Doyle warns of the possibility that these street vendors are selling hot goods and says the sellers can simply claim the merchandise fell off of a truck.

So the next time you're searching for a Brighton wallet that perfectly compliments your butterfly motif-sculpted watch, stick with an authorized Brighton retailer, or risk enabling the criminal careers of the lawless geriatric set.
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