- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The National Retail Federation is expected to issue a warning today about stolen infant formula and over-the-counter medicines popping up on Internet auction sites.

Some of the products pose a risk to consumers because they must be stored at a certain temperature, typically 68 to 77 degrees, to avoid spoiling. Thieves aren’t likely to be cautious about things like temperature, the National Retail Federation (NRF) cautions.

Organized thieves, many of whom operate large-scale operations, sell their stolen goods on Web sites as if they were obtained legally. Pricey items such as infant formula, eye drops and over-the-counter medicines are frequent-theft targets, according to the NRF, a Washington trade group.

The NRF’s announcement comes after a large-scale bust in Florida in which more than $100 million worth of stolen health and beauty items were recovered.

“In today’s economy, people are looking to save money,” said Joseph LaRocca, vice president of loss prevention at the NRF. But consumers often don’t understand the dangers of bargain hunting online, he said.

Organized theft has always been a problem for the industry, but the scope of the problem has grown with the rise of online auction sites that make it easier to resell stolen goods, according to the NRF. The crime has been dubbed “e-fencing.”

The FBI estimates retailers lose about $30 billion a year to organized theft.

Retail organizations have lobbied Congress and state legislatures to pass laws prohibiting online auction sites from listing goods that are likely to be stolen. One potential problem: Buyers can’t really tell whether a product has been stolen.

Moreover, it is easy for a thief to hide his identity online, and auction sites such as EBay haven’t been helpful in preventing the problem, Mr. LaRocca said.

“EBay’s position on the sale of stolen goods on its site is unwavering: This practice is illegal and is not permitted nor welcome on EBay,” the company said yesterday.

“We will prohibit products from sale on EBay where a manufacturer provides us with evidence that the sale of such an item online presents a genuine risk of consumer harm, but we will not do this based on unsupported, speculative claims aimed at controlling distribution channels,” EBay said.

Maryland Delegates Brian J. Feldman, Montgomery County Democrat, and Hattie N. Harrison, Baltimore Democrat, introduced a bill this month that would ban the online sale of food, drugs or cosmetics that have expiration dates, any infant formula or baby food, or more than five gift cards per month. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for March 6.

Similar legislation recently failed in Colorado.


These items are popular targets for thieves who steal large quantities of goods and resell them, typically on Internet auction sites.

•Electric toothbrushes and replacement heads

•Over-the-counter allergy and pain medications

•Infant formula


•Teeth whiteners

•Pregnancy and diabetic tests

•Razors and refill cartridges

•Anti-smoking aids

Source: National Retail Federation

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