The Internet has given birth to a new breed of thieves: First-time crooks who steal from retailers then resell at Internet auction sites.
This information was delivered earlier this week to a congressional committee by the National Retail Federation (NRF).
These particular criminals are amateurs.
“The Internet seems to be contributing to the creation of a brand new type of retail thief — people who have never stolen before but are lured in by the convenience and anonymity of the Internet,” Joseph LaRocca told the committee. LaRocca is NRF vice president for loss prevention.
“Thieves often tell the same disturbing story: they begin legitimately selling product on eBay and then become hooked by its addictive qualities, the anonymity it provides and the ease with which they gain exposure to millions of customers,” LaRocca said. “When they run out of legitimate merchandise, they begin to steal intermittently, many times for the first time in their life, so they can continue selling online. The thefts then begin to spiral out of control and before they know it they quit their jobs, are recruiting accomplices and are crossing state lines to steal, all so they can support and perpetuate their online selling habit.”
These e-fencing thieves, according to LaRocca, can receive as much as 70 percent of an item’s retail value compared with about 30 percent on a street corner or at a pawn shop. And, the anonymity of the Internet reduces the chances of apprehension.
LaRocca testified before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, the panel that is scheduled to hold a hearing on three organized retail crime bills.
One of the bills would make organized retail crime a federal crime for the first time; another would require enhanced sentencing guidelines for organized retail crime; both would address online fencing.
Operators of auction sites could be considered as facilitators of organized retail crime unless they can show that specific steps have been taken to ensure that goods being sold have not been obtained by theft. Operators would be required to cooperate with retailers and police. And, retailers could sue over the sale of stolen merchandise. One of the bills would focus exclusively on Internet fencing, requiring online auction operators to retain information about high-volume sellers and provide the information to police or retailers once a police report is filed.
These measures are necessary, LaRocca says, because online auction operators don’t do enough to cooperate with retailers to stop organized retail crime.
“We can’t keep addressing this issue by investigating and apprehending one seller at a time; we need a new approach,” he said, calling for responsible Internet auction sites to make modest changes to their businesses to help reduce the sale of stolen property.
Retailers lose as much as $30 billion annually to organized retail crime, according to the FBI and loss prevention experts. Eighty-five percent of retailers were victims of organized retail crime during the past year, according to the NRF.
It is good to know there are experts working on this. In the meantime, you might want to increase vigilance in your store. Talk to authorities about what else you can do; talk to your employees about how to spot thieves. Rearrange your store, if necessary, to make it more difficult to steal.