Police say it's a growing illegal industry: massive, organized retail theft, in which internet-savvy criminals shoplift pricey items from the shelves of big-box retailers and sell them on Facebook Marketplace and similar sites.
Detective Sgt. Todd Curtis of the Perrysburg Township Police Department in Ohio is one of a trio of investigators who began busting organized shoplifting rings long before a wave of cities began acknowledging the problem in recent weeks. He recently helped arrest a 44-year-old man selling a stolen Husqvarna chainsaw on Facebook Marketplace after Lowe's and Home Depot reported several of their stores in the area were hit by a shoplifting crew.
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For the past two decades, law enforcement has struggled to keep up as one platform succeeded another as the preferred marketplace for stolen goods. But law enforcement agencies say Facebook Marketplace, which has increasingly become a go-to destination for organized rings because of its ease to offload their loot, has already gained a reputation among investigators for being so slow to respond and cooperate that officers often have to give up or invent workarounds.
“It’s just a perfect storm of a lot of bad things being enabled all at once,” said Sucharita Kodali, a principal analyst at Forrester, a market research firm. “The fact that they’re so prevalent, the fact that there is absolutely no regulation around them, the fact that the marketplaces themselves are explicitly exonerated from illicit activity, which is a huge, huge flaw.”
California, Illinois and other states are reassessing their yearslong push to scale back property crime enforcement as viral videos circulate featuring “smash-and-grabs” at high-end shops across the country.