01/31/2011 03:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Vending Machines: The Latest Recession Victim

Vending machine thefts are rocketing, thanks to hard times.

Criminal gangs in Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi and New York are targeting vending machines according to the Wall Street Journal.

Although vending machine owners factor in the assumption that 3 percent of sales will disappear thanks to sticky-fingered employees and petty thefts, the problem is getting worse, according to the WSJ, with criminals using welding torches and bolt cutters to break into machines.

"My sense is that theft is on the rise as there are so many people in desperate times," Mark Manney, chief executive of Loss Prevention Results Inc., told the WSJ.

Vending machine operators told the WSJ that the trend was exacerbated by several instructional videos on YouTube offering vending machine-looting expertise.

The snack attacks come as vending machine sales fall. According to figures from trade magazine
Automatic Merchandiser, U.S. sales fell 10 percent, from $22 billion in 2008, to almost $20 billion in 2009.

With razor thin profit margins of 1 percent, every theft makes a difference, and with thefts usually amounting to just a few dollars, cops stay away.

The WSJ reports on vending machine owners who are responding with wireless security systems that can send mid-heist alerts. One such owner, Marcus Whitener, retrofitted 4,000 of his vending machines with wireless devices:

When a vending door is opened at unauthorized times or power is cut, Mr. Whitener receives a text message and email.

Within nine months of installing the systems, Mr. Whitener said, seven of his 25 route drivers quit or were fired. Five quit after he started asking questions about cash shortages.