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US retail companies demand action against organized smash-and-grab crime rings

The CEOs of Best Buy, Target, CVS Health, and Dollar General were among the 20 executives to sign the letter sent Thursday to congressional leaders.

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Hannah Nightingale Washington DC
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In a letter addressed to Senate and House leaders on Thursday, the Retail Industry Leaders Association urged Congress to pass legislation protecting buyers from illicit products being sold online either as counterfeits, or being sold after being stolen from stores.

"Leading retailers are concerned about the growing impact organized retail crime is having on the communities we proudly serve, which is why we strongly support the bipartisan and bicameral Integrity, Notification and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces (INFORM) for Consumers Act," the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Sen. Chuck Schumer, and Sen. Mitch McConnell.

"This important legislation will modernize our consumer protection laws to safeguard families and communities from the sale of illicit products and we urge its quick passage," the letter added.

The letter noted that there has been a "a significant uptick in organized crime in communities across the nation," seen in the form of large-scale smash-and-grab robberies.

"While we constantly invest in people, policies, and innovative technology to deter theft, criminals are capitalizing on the anonymity of the Internet and the failure of certain marketplaces to verify their sellers. This trend has made retail businesses a target for increasing theft, hurt legitimate businesses who are forced to compete against unscrupulous sellers, and has greatly increased consumer exposure to unsafe and dangerous counterfeit products," the letter continued.

While noting that there is no simple answer to stopping organized retail crime or the sale of counterfeit items, the association stated that transparency is key in stemming the buying of these items.

"If a customer buys a product from a local retail storefront or ecommerce site and it is broken or otherwise defective, the consumer knows exactly who to contact. There is accountability. 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. This lack of transparency on particular third-party marketplaces has allowed criminal activity to fester," the letter states.

The association urged Congress to pass the INFORM Consumers Act, which they state will increase transparency and make it easier for consumers to identify who they are purchasing from.

"The INFORM Consumers Act is a simple, bipartisan measure that will increase transparency online for all marketplaces, making it easier for consumers to identify exactly who they are buying from, and make it harder for criminal elements to hide behind fake screennames and false business information to fence illicit products while evading law enforcement," the letter states.

"The legislation has unified retailers, consumer groups, manufacturers, law enforcement, and all those serious about stopping the sale of counterfeit and stolen goods sold online," the letter continued.

"It is time for Congress to modernize our consumer safety laws so consumers, retail employees, and businesses are not targets of organized retail crime and dangerous counterfeit products. Implementing basic transparency and verification protocols is essential and will finally expose criminals who are selling consumers stolen, fake, and dangerous products," the letter concluded.

Signing onto the letter in addition to the RILA President Brian Dodge are company leaders from a multitude of businesses, many of which have been hit in high-profile smash-and-grab robberies in recent months.

These signers include: Best Buy CEO Core Barry, CVS Health  Executive Vice President Neela Montgomery, Home Depot CEO Craig Meaner, Nordstrom CEO Erik Nordstrom, and Walgreens Boots Alliance President John Standley.

On Black Friday, a Minneapolis suburbs Best Buy was hit in a massive "smash-and-grab" operation, where dozens of people ran in and grabbed merchandise off the shelves. In November, as many as 80 masked and armed robbers stole from a Nordstrom store in Walnut Creek, California. Walgreens stores in the San Francisco area have been hit particularly hard, with the pharmacy chain deciding to close down five stores in October after a spike in retail theft.

Walgreens spokesperson Phil Caruso said in a statement announcing the closures, "Due to ongoing organized retail crime, we have made the difficult decision to close five stores across San Francisco. Each store will transfer prescriptions to a nearby Walgreens location within a mile radius and we expect to place the stores’ team members in other nearby locations."

Caruso added, "Organized retail crime continues to be a challenge facing retailers across San Francisco, and we are not immune to that. Retail theft across our San Francisco stores has continued to increase in the past few months to five times our chain average. During this time to help combat this issue, we increased our investments in security measures in stores across the city to 46 times our chain average in an effort to provide a safe environment."

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