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Online Sellers’ Red Flags Can Point to Fencing Crime

Perhaps the most widely known criminal on our radar is the fence. A fence is an individual who knowingly buys stolen property for later resale, often in a legitimate marketplace. Simply defined, a fence markets known stolen items obtained from their own ORC theft, booster crews, or other fences. Pawn shops, check-cashing businesses, and flea-market locations are common in this activity.

Although any item could be at risk, there are typical “hot items” we look for. The items preferred are almost always in high demand and relatively accessible to booster crews and individual shoplifters. Investigators questioning a fencing crime suspect will find that receipts and documentation for items are sparse, fake, and are rarely provided.

The proceeds of their illegal actions are turned over quickly and used to obtain additional stolen goods to resell. These fencing crime perpetrators are not brand loyal and typically sell on many online sites and physical locations. Businesses of this type often try to hide behind willful negligence, meaning they don’t feel it is their responsibility to verify sources on all the items they buy from others.

- Digital Partner -

Following are some of the specific red flags we look for to identify fencing crime online:

  • Pricing is typically significantly below retail or other online sellers.
  • Savvy fences may mix in small amounts of stolen goods with legitimate products, such as combining stolen electronics with their antiques business to offset profit margins.
  • They frequently will start eBay auction prices at $0.99 with no reserve because they don’t care about the final price.
  • High conversion rates and/or sales ramps are common depending on frequency of listings.
  • Immediate access of funds through ATM withdrawals is typical.
  • Fraudsters often provide great customer service and fast shipping.
  • Public records often show a criminal history, large liens, and association with known criminals.
  • Social media may show life events or issues that lend to the behavior, such as frivolous spending, gambling, or drug use.
  • Shill bidding is a common tactic used to inflate the price of merchandise and prevent items from selling too low.

Check out the full article, “Joint ORC Investigations,” which appeared in the May-June 2015 issue of LP Magazine. This post was updated March 8, 2018.

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