Organized retail crime wave must be stopped

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People say everything’s bigger in Texas. Now it appears that includes the level of crime. Smash-and-grab thefts plastering our local news day after day have surpassed petty shoplifting. What we’re seeing is professional stealing or, more accurately, organized retail crime, and it’s proving to be dangerous to businesses and consumers alike.   

The crime goes beyond the theft of commercial goods. As Homeland Security Investigations Dallas Special Agent Christopher Miller puts it, “Organized retail crime leads to consumers having to pay higher prices for goods, fewer job openings, and a decrease in consumer spending on legitimate goods that small-business owners and other retailers depend on for survival.”  

It’s bad for businesses everywhere, but it is especially pervasive in the Lone Star state. So much so that the National Retail Federation named Houston one of the top 10 cities impacted by organized retail crime in 2021. In just one instance at the height of the pandemic, Houston police uncovered more than $1 million worth of stolen merchandise stored from floor to ceiling in one resident’s single-family home alone.   

Even more disturbing is that our problem is spanning state lines. An Illinois man was recently found guilty of operating a $20 million crime ring that stole goods from a number of Texas retail stores and fenced them online through e-commerce platforms to generate more than $11 million in profit. Crossing Texas’ border with illicit items and selling them online meant that Homeland Security Investigations Dallas had to join forces with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Illinois’ Arlington Heights Police Department to close this case.  

ICE LAUNCHES PUSH TO CRACK DOWN ON ORGANIZED RETAIL CRIME AMID SURGE IN SMASH-AND-GRAB ATTACKS ON STORES

This undated image released by the California Attorney General's Office shows stolen items from Bay Area retailers, recovered in a warehouse in Concord, Calif., where a search warrant was executed by California law enforcement authorities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Spurred by a recent run of large-scale smash-and-grab robberies, prosecutors and retailers are pushing back on assertions by California's governor and attorney general that they have enough tools to combat retail theft in the wake of a voter-approved easing of related laws. 

This undated image released by the California Attorney General’s Office shows stolen items from Bay Area retailers, recovered in a warehouse in Concord, Calif., where a search warrant was executed by California law enforcement authorities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Spurred by a recent run of large-scale smash-and-grab robberies, prosecutors and retailers are pushing back on assertions by California’s governor and attorney general that they have enough tools to combat retail theft in the wake of a voter-approved easing of related laws.  ((California Attorney General’s Office via AP))

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Thanks to the internet and its accessibility, the impact of retail theft is becoming less localized, and cases like the Illinois ringleader’s that involves a state-spanning network of law enforcement at the state and federal level are becoming all too common. It’s time this national problem be met with national policy, starting with H.R. 5502 — The Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers (INFORM Consumers) Act — currently being considered in the broader China competitiveness package. It has broad, bipartisan support in Congress.  

If passed, the INFORM Consumers Act would essentially help dissuade these retail crime rings empowered by the anonymity of the internet by requiring them to verify their identity; including their name, tax ID, bank account information and contact information. Moreover, it protects consumers from stolen and counterfeit goods without unnecessarily imposing undue burden on small online businesses.  

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The INFORM Consumers Act is a common-sense piece of legislation that, in addition to earning the praise of law enforcement, has brought opposing political parties and competing industries together in support. It’s a sensible solution we can all get behind. Let’s not wait to give Texas and the country a reprieve from organized retail crime and pass the INFORM Consumers Act. The committee reviewing this omnibus package must include H.R. 5502 in its final version.