Congress Can Help Stop Organized Retail Crime

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This is a column by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr.

Ensuring that all Georgians have safe access to food and other essentials has been a top priority for my office from day one of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, we acted quickly to protect consumers from price gouging and scams by establishing open lines of communications with retailers and other businesses.

Behind the scenes, another issue is worsening, and, unfortunately, many Georgians may unknowingly allow it inside their homes: organized retail crime. Organized retail crime is another name for groups of criminals stealing mass quantities of merchandise from stores and then selling those stolen goods online, and it is a growing problem.

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Organized retail crime impacts 97% of retailers in Georgia. Last year, Dunwoody police, who say the bulk of the service calls they receive every day are related to theft, conducted two sting operations in partnership with the Georgia Retailers Organized Retail Crime Alliance that resulted in the arrest of more than 40 people. Home Depot has reported instances of criminals stealing carts full of merchandise, shoving employees aside in the process.

Such criminal activity exposes Georgia retail workers to potentially dangerous encounters, puts consumers at risk of unknowingly purchasing expired and defective goods from online marketplaces and threatens the health and growth of local businesses. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security has warned about the dangers posed to the public.

Organized retail crime is also a kingpin for other criminal operations. The International Criminal Police Organization, or INTERPOL, has said that there is a direct link between organized retail crime and human trafficking, drug trafficking, corruption, bribery and money laundering.

Through many efforts, including our Georgia Anti-Gang Network, statewide law enforcement officials are stepping up to curb this syndicated behavior, and it is important to note that these efforts do more than put bad actors behind bars — they can potentially save lives.

But despite our success to date tracking down bad actors involved in organized crime rings, there remain loopholes that enable some bands of criminals to go undetected by exploiting lax oversight by online marketplaces.

Congress can help us solve this problem by creating federal standards that prevent criminals from anonymously selling stolen products online and give state law enforcement agencies the information they need to identify who these sellers are and bring them to justice.
One proposed solution [] lawmakers are considering would make it far more difficult for thieves to fly beneath the radar on online marketplaces. The bill, known as the INFORM Consumers Act, would require those looking to set up accounts on e-commerce platforms to disclose basic information such as their government ID, tax ID, bank account information and contact details.

This would give Georgia law enforcement the ability to quickly and accurately identify criminals and hold them accountable. It is the kind of common-sense solution that will better protect Georgians.

Georgia law enforcement, in partnership with retailers and local businesses, will continue to do everything in its power to protect workers, consumers and local businesses by rooting out organized retail crime wherever it crops up. But, there will continue to be new networks of bad actors so long as they know they can get away with selling stolen goods anonymously online. Congress can help us by passing targeted legislation that closes this loophole…  The Augusta Chronicle

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