Hawaii's Spate Of Spam Heists

Oct 22, 2017
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LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

Along with its sandy beaches and azure waters, Hawaii is also known for its culinary obsession with the can meat product known as Spam.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GILLES LAGIN: When you want to serve delicious meals for your family, you don't say ham, you say Spam.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) You don't say ham. You say Spam. Spam is real spiced ham. Spam is real spiced ham.

SINGH: In Hawaii, a recent spate of Spam thefts has put authorities on alert.

TINA YAMAKI: Spam has always been one of those things that people have stolen in the past, but we've seen a rash increase recently within the last few months, where people are now stealing multiple cases of Spam.

SINGH: Tina Yamaki is president of the retail merchants of Hawaii. She says that many of the retailers she works with around Honolulu have reported an increase in Spam heists, with teams of people involved, a phenomenon she calls organized retail crime.

YAMAKI: When you start to steal 11 to 18 cases of Spam, it's more than just feeding your family.

SINGH: Yamaki is quick to point out that it isn't just Spam that's being stolen. Retailers are also reporting more thefts of other easily stash high-value goods like corned beef and liquor. Yamaki chalks that up to a recent change in criminal law penalties which upped the threshold to be charged with a felony by about $400.

YAMAKI: Well, it is a black market of some sort. We've heard that, you know, it's being resold in homeless camps, out of back of trucks at the swap meet, to people in and around their neighborhoods. I mean, there's a whole lot of rumors of where these things are being sold.

SINGH: The problem's gotten bad enough for some grocery and convenience stores around the island to start keeping some popular canned goods under lock and key. Lani Sumait is a supervisor at Tamura's Market in Hau'ula, Hawaii. Sumait says that they're keeping Spam close to the front register and locking up corned beef. And while she understands that mainlanders may find Spam sort of funny, she says, to her, it is not a laughing matter.

LANI SUMAIT: You're stealing from my pocket because my employer can't give me a raise because he has to cover the cost of all the loss. So yeah, I take it personal, I do.

SINGH: As for the semi-organized criminals behind the Spam spree. Lani Sumait says she'll be leaving that problem to the professionals at the Honolulu Police Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.