Mobs of thieves have hit up retailers around the country recently by quickly raiding stores and taking off with piles of merchandise in a matter of minutes. State Representative Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, is sponsoring a bill meant to address these organized retail theft crime rings, such as so-called smash-and-grab robberies. A Missouri House committee is considering his proposal.

State Rep. Lane Roberts (R-Joplin), the House Crime Prevention Committee Chair, speaks on the House floor on May 10, 2021 (photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at House Communications)

“Currently retail theft has become a major issue for our retail industries in addition to the loss those deaths have become more and more violent,” says Roberts. “Currently that lack of transparency online has made it easy to hide behind a screen name and fake business information and peddle stolen products.”

The legislation would create the felony offense of organized retail theft and require online marketplaces to obtain and regularly verify certain information from high-volume third-party sellers.

Jeremy Sutherburg, Asset Protection Director with Walgreens in Missouri, says the company supports the plan. He says Walgreens noticed an uptick about three years ago in organized theft of items in bulk, including violent incidents, especially in St. Louis and Kansas City.

“About three years ago, I spent about $1.5 million a year, believe it or not, on security, and off duty law enforcement’s just for our Walgreens stores to keep our team members protected. This year, I’m on pace to spend almost $4.5 million. Because when these individuals come in, if anybody gets in their way or even perceives to get in their way, they’re immediately going to threat with violence,” he says.

Tom Dempsey, who lobbies on behalf of Amazon, says the online retail company opposes the plan.

“Instead of targeting bad actors, House Bill 2108 will hurt honest small businesses by setting up road blocks for legitimate sellers. The bills verification requirements are ineffective and will not stop criminals who by net by definition will ignore the law. However, a legitimate seller would be suspended from conducting business if they’re unable to gather the materials required by this legislation. Or if they fail to merely tell Amazon their info has not changed within the bills stipulated timeframe. The seller verification process in this legislation creates more bureaucracy not more transparency. Additionally, displaying more personal information like an email address or phone number of a seller does not help consumers make more informed shopping decisions. Instead, the bill entices consumers to initiate offline unmonitored communications that could expose them to fraud and abuse,” says Dempsey.

He touts the company’s processes aimed at protecting buyers and sellers.

“We leverage advanced technology and expert investigators to verify a potential sellers identity and ensure that only authentic and legal products are sold in our store. Our seller verification system analyzes hundreds of unique data points to verify a prospective sellers information and identify potential risks, including looking at the sellers IP address to determine whether they’re using a private network to hide their location. We also connect with the person one on one through live video chat. Once a selling partner is verified, we consistently monitor accounts and require additional documentation to list certain products. Amazon has a zero tolerance policy for the listing of stolen goods in our stores. We work closely with law enforcement retailers and brands to stop bad actors and hold them accountable, including withholding funds, terminating accounts and making law enforcement referrals,” says Dempsey.

Dempsey says he supports a bill Roberts filed last year and also a federal bill in Congress that deal with organized retail theft crimes.

To view House Bill 2108, click here.

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