Big box retail CEOs urge Congress to act after items stolen by ‘smash-and-grab’ gangs being sold online

The CEOs of major retail chains, frustrated by a lack of action over rising “smash-and-grab” robberies by gangs of thieves, are pressing Congress to intervene as they worry about the future of their businesses.

The heads of 20 major retailers fired off a letter to congressional leaders on Thursday asking them to pass legislation that they believe will help by targeting anonymous online vendors selling allegedly stolen merchandise.

The retail chieftains say that in recent months there has been a dramatic uptick in the robberies, which involve large groups of thieves who roll up on a retailer in a caravan of vehicles — probably after it has been scoped out by undercover operatives — jump out, rush inside and empty store shelves only to escape moments later into the waiting cars and vans.

The brazen robberies, which often take place in broad daylight, are resulting in stolen items then being sold in online marketplaces, often by anonymous sources.

In the past year alone, the retail industry has lost billions of dollars to many “hot” items, according to a 2020 survey from the National Retail Federation and the FBI.

“Signatories include the CEOs of Target, CVS Health, Rite Aid, Home Depot, Dollar General, AutoZone, Kroger, Petco, Ulta Beauty, Nordstrom, and Best Buy, as well as the president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association,” Business Insider reported.

In their letter to congressional leaders, the CEOs point out the “anonymity of the Internet” as well as the “failure of certain marketplaces” to verify sellers’ identities as contributing to the lawlessness.

“In the current environment, criminal networks and unscrupulous businesses have exploited a system that protects their anonymity to sell unsafe, stolen, or counterfeit products with little legal recourse,” the letter states. “This lack of transparency on particular third-party marketplaces has allowed criminal activity to fester.”

The retail leaders are asking Congress to support bipartisan legislation that would require online marketplaces to authenticate high-volume third-party sellers, according to the outlet.

Called the “Integrity Notification and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers Act,” or the INFORM Consumers Act, the bill reportedly makes it more difficult for unscrupulous sellers to shield themselves using phony screen names and fake business information when they are unloading the stolen goods, according to the letter.

However, the bill has opponents, including groups like the Makers and Merchants Coalition, which is a trade organization representing third-party online sellers. They argue the bill would go a ways towards helping to eliminate big-box retailer competition, a group spokesperson previously told Business Insider.

“The retail leaders do not explicitly name third-party marketplace platforms in the letter, but multiple e-commerce sites have pushed back on claims that they don’t do enough to monitor illegal activity on their platforms,” the outlet reported.

One of the biggest online marketplaces — Amazon — implemented seller verification measures last year that include requiring a form of government-issued ID. The company also said it supports the INFORM Consumers Act.

“Amazon does not allow third-party sellers to list stolen goods in our store, and we work closely with law enforcement, retailers, and brands to stop bad actors and hold them accountable, including withholding funds, terminating accounts, and making law enforcement referrals,” an Amazon spokesperson noted in a statement to the outlet.

“We regularly request invoices, purchase orders, or other proofs of sourcing when we have concerns about how a seller may have obtained particular products that they want to sell.”

Facebook Marketplace bars the sale of stolen merchandise, per its commerce policy, Business Insider noted.

(Video: WJZY)


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