RILA supports act to curb organized retail crime

The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) has lent its support to a new organized crime act that targets the growing problem of organized retail crime.

Crime rings have been stealing and stockpiling “huge quantities” of merchandise in various targeted areas, the retail trade group said in a statement, with profits from selling those items online and in pawn shops helping fund criminal enterprise.

The Organized Retail Crime Act of 2008, introduced by Representative Jim Jordon (R-OH) seeks to address the problem by equipping law enforcement officials with additional tools to help curtail theft and offering consumers greater ability to recognize fraudulent consumer products.

“Because of widely varying state laws and the lack of a clear federal criminal statute addressing [organized retail crime], gangs who move from store to store stealing thousands of dollars of merchandise are often only subject to minor misdemeanor charges,” the group said in a statement.

The bill would criminalize the theft and subsequent sale of retail goods and services and would amend the federal criminal code to make activities involved in furthering organized retail crime illegal. The bill would also impose specific duties on online marketplaces to limit illegal activity occurring online involving organized retail crime.

As earlier reported in HCN, Organized Retail Crime has deeply affected the home channel in a number of ways.

Earlier this year, for example, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, N.J., alleged a far-reaching criminal enterprise engaged in illegal gambling, extortion, loan sharking, labor racketeering and a fraud scheme involving a Lowe’s store in Paterson, N.J. Members of both the Gambino and the Lucchese crime families were named in the indictment, which charged 23 individuals and capped a two-year investigation by the FBI.

One of the defendants, India Fugate, worked as a 28-year-old customer service associate at Lowe’s in Paterson, N.J. According to the indictment, Fugate fraudulently obtained personal identification information from Lowe’s customers and, with the help of Gambino family member Andrew Merola, used the information to open store credit cards and purchase merchandise.

The indictment describes a second scheme where Fugate and other organized crime figures created fake bar codes that enabled them to fraudulently purchase goods from Lowe’s, Home Depot, Best Buy, Circuit City and other New Jersey stores. The items, which included power tools, were allegedly purchased at greatly reduced prices.

Wal-Mart, Target and a number of other big-box chains have reported being the victim of various bar code theft schemes as well. Several Home Depot stores have been the victim of thefts of high-ticket items, such as power tools and drills. In Ada County, Idaho, for example, two residents were charged in a theft ring that included stealing tools and other items and returning them for cash and gift cards to local Home Depot and Lowe’s stores.

“Organized retail crime costs consumers and businesses tens of billions of dollars every year,” RILA noted.

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