If you watched today’s Congressional hearing on “Combating Organized Retail Crime”, you’d wonder how the rhetoric could change so significantly and positively, compared to a hearing on the same topic–in front of the same subcommittee—just a year ago.
I remember testifying at the Sep-2008 hearing, when the National Retail Federation (NRF) described how regular folks get "hooked" on the "addictive qualities" of selling online, and then steal to "support their online selling habit." Naturally, I took issue with that, and was joined by hundreds of NetChoice members in demanding an apology from the NRF.
While we got no apology, I think we got something much better at today’s hearing – a glimmer of hope that retailers and online markets can cooperate to stop retail theft and to stop stolen goods from polluting the online channel.
Committee leadership set the stage for a more productive discussion by selecting witnesses from law enforcement for this year’s hearing. We heard from experts at FBI, Customs, Secret Service, and the Postal Inspections Service.
These professionals described their efforts to chase-down organized crime involving stolen goods. And all of these officials reported that online marketplaces—particularly eBay and PayPal—cooperate fully when law enforcement investigates listings for suspected stolen goods. Moreover, the FBI and Secret Service witnesses said that online markets will often flag suspicious items and proactively notify law enforcement.
Members of this Congressional subcommittee asked witnesses if they needed new laws and/or new enforcement resources to pursue organized retail crime. None asked for new laws, which was surprising given that this hearing was triggered by three legislative proposals being supported by big retailers. Not surprisingly, the witnesses indicated they’d gladly accept additional funding for their enforcement activities.
That’s about right. More enforcement is the most effective way to stop criminals from ripping-off retailers and selling their stolen goods at flea markets and on the Internet. Still, Chairman Bobby Scott plans to convene a meeting with retailers and online marketplaces, to explore how they can improve cooperation and help to expedite investigations by law enforcement officials. That’s a good move, too.
Like Rudy Giuliani said when he was a federal prosecutor, “It’s about time law enforcement got as organized as organized crime.”