Congress Sets Sights on Organized Retail Crime

When most people hear the word “shoplifting,” they usually do not think of a group of criminals acting together across state and international borders. Unfortunately, a new brand of shoplifting is occurring across the country and around the world on a grand scale. It is called organized retail crime.

Organized retail crime, or ORC, occurs when criminals steal merchandise from reputable retailers and resell it to unwitting consumers. According to the National Retail Federation, stolen items are usually everyday products, like razors, baby formula, gift cards, and batteries. However, ORC rings may also target high-value merchandise like DVDs, video games, and designer clothing.

Organized retail crime organizations, which may operate across state or national lines, resell the stolen merchandise through online auction sites, flea markets, or pawn shops. Some crime rings tamper with expiration dates on cosmetics and medications, and repackage and re-label merchandise, all of which endanger consumers. Unfortunately, innocent parties who don’t understand what they are getting into may be implicated in some of these large-scale theft transactions.

Government Action on Organized Retail Theft

Eighty-nine percent of retailers reportedly fell victim to some sort of organized retail crime last year. ORC costs stores between $15 billion and $30 billion per year.

Congress has taken action on the ORC problem. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the Organized Retail Theft Investigation and Prosecution Act of 2010, which received bipartisan support in the House, and passed on September 29. The bill awaits Senate approval.

The bill would create a new unit within the Department of Justice dedicated to investigating and prosecuting organized retail crime. It would require the attorney general to submit a report to the Justice Department outlining what retailers and law enforcement can do to stop and prevent ORC. The bill allots $5 million per year to fund the effort.

In 2007, Utah passed legislation cracking down on organized retail crime. Currently, only fourteen other states have done the same.

Related Story: House passes bill to fight organized retail crime

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