NRF Welcomes Bill To Make Organized Retail Crime a Violation of Federal Law

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The National Retail Federation is hailing introduction of legislation that would make organized retail crime a federal offense.

Rep. Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., and Representative Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, as lead co-sponsor, introduced H.R. 6491, the Organized Retail Crime Act of 2008, today.

The bill would define organized retail crime as "the acquiring of retail merchandise by illegal means for the purpose of reselling the items" and make such activity — including transportation, sale or receipt of stolen retail goods — a federal crime.

Among other provisions, sale of stolen or counterfeit gift cards, or items with faked bar codes or Radio Frequency Identification chips would be considered fraud. Those found guilty of committing or facilitating organized retail crimes would be subject to appropriate existing fines, prison terms and forfeiture, and the legislation would require the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review its guidelines for cases involving such crimes.

The bill would also establish that operation of online marketplaces such as auction sites can be considered "facilitation" of organized retail crime unless the operator can show that specific steps were taken to ensure that goods being sold were not obtained by theft or fraud. Site operators would be required to "expeditiously" investigate complaints that stolen items are being sold, maintain records of the names and physical addresses of high-volume sellers, and require high-volume sellers to either post that information along with merchandise offerings or make it available upon request to any business with a reasonable suspicion about the merchandise. Operators of online marketplaces could also be sued by any business whose stolen goods were sold.

"The introduction of this bill shows that Congress realizes organized retail crime is more than just shoplifting," NRF VP for Loss Prevention Joseph LaRocca said. "Organized retail crime is a large and growing national issue with dollar losses bigger than robbery, larceny, burglary and auto theft combinedhellip;This legislation will make organized retail crime part of our federal criminal statutes, and give law enforcement officers and prosecutors the tools they need to put these criminals behind bars."

Retailers lose between $15 and $30 billion to organized retail crime each year, according to the FBI and retail loss prevention experts. The figure compares to the $18 billion for robbery, larceny, burglary and auto theft combined reported by the FBI Uniform Crime Report. In addition, a record 85 percent of retailers reported that they were victims of organized retail crime in the past year, according to NRF's annual survey on the issue.