New Bills Aim to Reduce Organized Retail Crime

Three bills introduced in Congress Wednesday aim to reduce the impact of organized retail crime, or ORC, on merchants.

ORC involves crime rings that steal large quantities of goods and then resell them through Internet auction sites, such as eBay, as well as flea markets, swap meets and pawnshops. According to industry trade associations, tens of billions of dollars of merchandise is stolen annually by these criminals.

The bills include the Combating Organized Retail Crime Act of 2009, introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL); the Organized Retail Crime Act of 2009 (HR 1173), introduced by Congressman Brad Ellsworth (D-IN); and the E-Fencing Enforcement Act of 2009 (HR 1166), introduced by Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA).

Each fixes weaknesses in the federal laws that have allowed organized retail crime to proliferate. No federal law addresses ORC – and criminals have been able to exploit the patchwork quilt of state laws that do address it by constantly bringing their activities across state lines. If these criminals are caught, they are often only subject to minor misdemeanor charges.

And now that the economy is in a tailspin, loss prevention experts say the problem is only going to get worse. “This is a serious crime issue with real health and safety implications,” said Paul Jones, RILA’s vice president for asset protection, in a statement. “ORC gangs profit tremendously from their crimes and the profits are often used to fund additional criminal activity.” RILA, which chairs the Coalition Against Organized Retail Crime, supports all three measures, which will likely combined into one bill as they move through the legislative process.

If approved as is, the Combating Organized Retail Crime Act of 2009 would clarify existing law to give law enforcement the tools to fight ORC, require online and off-line market places to investigate suspicious sales, and place basic disclosure requirements on online marketplaces.

The Organized Retail Crime Act of 2009 HR 1173 would amend federal criminal code, making it illegal to engage in activities that further organized retail crime. To deter illegal activities of organized retail criminals, it would also impose specific and narrow obligations on online marketplaces used by high-volume sellers of stolen merchandise.

The E-Fencing Enforcement Act of 2009 HR 1166 would address ORC by imposing reasonable duties on online marketplaces to collect information that law enforcement can in turn use to prosecute those that fence goods on their Websites. The bill requires that online marketplaces halt the sale of goods on Websites if goods are determined stolen.