Go online and you can buy almost any product in a mix of legal and illegal items competing on the sale. From infant formulas to designer handbags, sneakers, cosmetics, olive oil, and wine. Illegal items, stolen and counterfeit, are hiding in plain sight, right there on our global online marketplaces.
Retail crime is responsible for about $50 billion per year, according to the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention. Shoplifting occurs in almost every type of retail and in any venue, from mom-and-pop shops to big-box retailers. All theft adversely affects businesses, but retailers are most concerned about organized retail crime.
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What is organized retail crime?
Organized retail crime refers to retail theft that takes place in an organized, professional way and often in substantial quantities. Theft includes shoplifting, cargo theft, and other crimes.
In addition to theft, illegal merchandise can also be obtained in other ways. In an LPM article, organized retail crime is said to have evolved and include different crimes, such as sophisticated fraud schemes, deep supply chain theft, counterfeiting, and more. It can take place locally, but also on a national and international scale.
Organized retail crime is growing. According to a late-2019 NRF report, almost two-thirds of brick-and-mortar retailers have seen an increase in organized crime activity. In addition to thefts from stores, the report says 73 percent of the retailers surveyed had been victims of cargo theft. Cargo theft is most commonly associated with cargo on its way from distribution centers to stores, as well as at distribution centers or while the goods are transported between stores.
These days, the stolen goods are often found later on online marketplaces. The easy online sale causes an increase in stolen goods. Other factors that contribute to the illegal increase include staff shortages in stores in an effort to cut expenses, and demand for specific brands or products.
Stolen items sold online
Online stolen goods are numerous, and are mainly goods that are easy to steal and sell. Such items include a mix of everyday consumer goods, such as razors, deodorants, and denim pants alongside designer fashion, smartphones, and high-end liquor.
Organized crime groups are now involved in retail theft. They are driven by the ability to easily and almost anonymously sell the stolen goods online. Online platforms give criminals access to shoppers they would not otherwise reach, and allow them to sell the stolen merchandise directly. Criminals can offer a stolen iPhone, for example, on eBay. Here they can bid and move it quickly.
Another common way to sell stolen goods online is called e-fencing. A “fence” is the one who buys stolen goods on purpose, to resale later. In fact, marketplaces like eBay make fencing highly accessible.
Also, dedicated websites offer customers to change stolen items to cash. Websites such as cash4gold.com make it easy for criminals to sell stolen jewelry. Criminals can steal jewelry they know is accepted by the website, easily sell it on the website, and get cash. Reselling stolen items is also carried out through auction sale sites and social media.
Another method used in organized retail crime involves stealing from the physical store, returning the items for a gift card, and then reselling the gift card. Many retailers find their gift cards offered on online marketplaces.
As criminals become more sophisticated, and with few regulations and little oversight of third-party sellers, they find online platforms to be efficient, safer channels to sell stolen items and gain unlawful profits, just like they do with counterfeit items.
This year, for example, the Dallas News reported that over 20 people have been charged with selling stolen merchandise online. According to the indictment, the crime ring had thieves shoplifting goods from stores like Walmart and Best Buy. They then sold the products on online platforms such as Amazon and eBay.
Stolen goods on Amazon
Sometimes, it is Amazon goods that are stolen and re-sold on Amazon. In 2019, Business Insider reported that a theft ring sold millions of dollars’ worth of stolen goods on Amazon.com over six years. Two Amazon delivery drivers were involved in providing the stolen goods to the businesses that later shipped them back to Amazon warehouses and fulfillment centers. The goods were offered for sale online and shipped from the warehouses.
Amazon faces challenges preventing the sale of stolen and counterfeit goods, as do other marketplaces. The issue with Amazon goes beyond the sale of stolen goods and may in fact drive prices down.
Shoppers on Amazon can easily choose the lowest price and not worry about it. Most times they do not vet the sellers, knowing they can return the item to Amazon and not deal with the seller. Lower prices create pressure to reduce prices not only on Amazon but on other platforms as well.
A few years ago, this happened when stolen GoPro’s were offered for discounted prices on Amazon, and caused legitimate competitors to match the low price. Lower prices can also be caused by grey market goods sold outside of a manufacturer’s approved distribution channels, and they are both challenges that have become more significant due to e-commerce.
Retail crimes after COVID-19
The global pandemic has forced brick-and-mortar stores to be closed and unavailable to customers. Closed physical stores have led to a rise in e-commerce, where illegal third-party sellers can easily do business. Unavailable retail stores have also interrupted organized retail crime rings. With stores reopening, it creates an increase in organized retail crimes activities.
Theft means lost profits. It’s time to look for fast and cost-effective solutions.
Wiser brand protection
Wiser Market brand protection agency has the technology and expertise to help your brand fight the unlawful sale of stolen and counterfeit goods on online marketplaces and other digital channels, such as websites and social media.
Our effective, long-term online brand protection strategy defends your brand’s revenue and reputation, resulting in an over 90% success rate.
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