House passes bill to fight organized retail crime

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By  Ylan Mui
Wednesday, September 29, 2010; 3:31 PM

The House passed a bill on Tuesday that would create a new team within the Department of Justice to combat what has become known as organized retail crime -- the methodical stealing and reselling of merchandise.

The bill is the latest push by retailers to draw attention to a problem they say costs stores from $15 billion to $30 billion a year. The thefts go beyond common shoplifting, they say, to encompass criminal rings that can operate across several states and even internationally. Often, the merchandise is resold to unwitting shoppers through online auction sites. Some of the most commonly stolen items are infant formula, razor blades, batteries, analgesics, cosmetics and gift cards, according to the National Retail Federation, a trade group.

The bill "will be one of the keys to protecting both retailers and consumers against the massive economic costs and very real public health and safety risks posed by organized retail crime," said Joseph LaRocca, NRF senior asset protection adviser.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of a House subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security. It provides the Justice Department $5 million annually to establish the crime-fighting team.

Retail Industry Leaders Association Senior Vice President John Emling called its passage "a critical first step" in combating retail crime, though it still must pass the Senate before it becomes law. Earlier proposals to define organized retail crime, set enforcement standards or establish new requirements for online auction sites have stalled in Congress.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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