WATERVILLE — Police are looking for a man who stole a shopping cart full of toys worth more than $450 Wednesday afternoon at Elm Plaza Kmart.

The man ignored Kmart employees after he left the store with the cart of toys without paying for them, according to Deputy Chief Charles Rumsey of the Waterville Police Department.

The man, in his 30s, was pushing a cart rapidly across the shopping center parking lot about 1:30 p.m. when store loss prevention employees caught up to him, Rumsey said.

“He was asked to produce a receipt, but he said he must have lost it in the store,” Rumsey said. “When an employee asked him to come back to the store, he left the cart and ran across Main Street.”

The attempted theft highlights a seasonal issue for retailers — a spike in shoplifting during the holiday season.

There have been about a dozen thefts from Waterville-area stores reported this week.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg — the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention reports that only one out of every 49 shoplifters is caught.

Two of those shoplifting reports were in the last three days from Marden’s Surplus & Salvage.

“We see an uptick in shoplifting every year during the holiday season,” said Craig Burgess, Marden’s general manager.

He said Marden’s hires loss prevention employees — security personnel — at its 14 retail stores throughout the state to watch for thieves on security cameras, but the company also relies on other employees to be alert.

Marden has an employee profit sharing program and “it’s clear that every dollar stolen negatively impacts our employees’ profit-sharing checks,” Burgess said.

In addition to hurting a store’s bottom line, stolen goods mean higher prices for shoppers. Shoplifting could lead to a 1 to 5 percent increase in the price of a product, Burgess said.

“Our goal at Marden’s is to have bargain prices and if customers are stealing things, we have to increase those prices,” he said. “Anything that goes out the door without being paid for hurts profitability.

“It’s almost impossible to say how many we don’t see, but we know we catch lots of shoplifters each year, but there are many that we don’t,” Burgess said. “It goes on almost non-stop.”

Last year, during the holiday season, roughly $8.9 billion of consumer items were stolen across the country, a 4 percent increase from the previous year, according Global Retail Theft Barometer’s yearly report, a study done by the Centre for Retail Research. The center, which is based out of Nottingham, England, provides research and analysis of retail and service sectors throughout the world. It puts out a yearly theft report to help retailers better understand consumer trends.

Statewide, shoplifting increased last year, according to the most recent data available.

In 2012, there was nearly a 14 percent increase over the previous year. There were more than 4,000 shoplifting offenses reported, amounting to more than $500,000 worth of items stolen, according to the Maine State Police 2012 Unified Crime Report.

Nationwide, shoplifting accounts for more than $13 billion of thefts each year, according to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention.

The police department initially sought the public’s help to find the would-be Kmart shoplifter with a post on its Facebook page Thursday morning.

After the man fled Elm Plaza, he was seen entering an old, white sedan near Caswell’s before he drove away onto Armory Road toward College Avenue, Rumsey said.

The man is described as tall, slim with short to balding dark hair and short facial hair. He was wearing jeans and a blue and gray jacket.

The man attempted to get away with several large children’s toys, including three large Lego sets and a remote-controlled Corvette.

The department asked that anyone with information about the man, call the department at 680-4700.

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239[email protected]Twitter: @jessescardina

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