Thursday, August 11

Part of what you see on eBay is stolen: the big platforms and the problem of illicit products


Just a month ago, the New York Prosecutor’s Office presented with great fanfare the dismantling of a criminal gang that had been investigating for three years and had managed to seize loot of more than four million dollars. So far everything normal. Nothing extraordinary. The curious thing about the case is how the criminals worked: basically, they booked thieves so that they could get hold of clothes and other luxury items that they later sold at lower prices. low cost through eBay.

It is not an isolated case, nor an unknown modus operandi in stores. On the contrary: at least in the US, some major retail chains have been requiring online commerce platforms, including eBay itself, Amazon or Facebook Marketplace, to step up their surveillance for some time now. Their objective: to prevent them from acting as a sieve for stolen merchandise.

From markets and car parks to the Internet. The change of scenery is explained clearly by Kwame Raoul, Attorney General of Illinois, who highlights the “ease” with which stolen merchandise can be resold through online platforms. “We are no longer in the time when it was done in a flea market, an alley or a parking lot,” he tells CNBC. Now the thieves have seen how the Internet opens the door to millions of customers with a simple click.

Concerned about this situation, in December some of the main US retailers sent a letter to Congress in which they demanded, precisely, that it adopt measures against the sale of stolen, counterfeit or even dangerous merchandise through the Internet.

A problem that is not unique to the US. That’s right, the problem of selling products of dubious origin on online platforms is not exclusive to NY, Illinois or Texas, where in 2020 the authorities sentenced a prisoner and the payment of about 3.8 million dollars to a woman who had been stealing and reselling items on eBay for nearly two decades, between 2000 and 2019.

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A similar debate has also been opened in Spain. in 2016 The confidential It echoed the complaints of several people who claimed to have seen how stolen objects were advertised on a national platform for sale. In 2012 the newspaper The Provinces reported the arrest of two young people for selling supposedly stolen merchandise through online portals.

The comfort of anonymity. “Criminals are taking advantage of the anonymity of the internet and the inability of certain marketplaces to verify their sellers. This trend has made retail stores a target for the increase in thefts”, lament the companies, who demand legislation that helps consumers “identify who they are buying from”.

Its effect on crime itself. It’s not just that it’s easier for criminals to sell their wares; is that this facility itself could lead to an increase in crime. At least that’s what the chains say: “Retail establishments of all kinds have seen a significant increase in organized crime in communities across the country.”

According to his calculations, in 2019 retailers suffered robberies for 68,900 million dollars in merchandise and in 2020 three quarters claimed to see an increase in organized crime. A similar perception is conveyed by official US agencies. “What drives this as a company is the ease of reselling stolen merchandise in online marketplaces,” Raoul stresses.

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A problem that comes from afar. The problem is not new, of course, and has been causing headaches for the sector and the authorities for some time. The issue has been in the US House for more than a decade and the body has even approved a legislative project that requires certain platform vendors to provide data that helps identify them, such as a bank account or tax information. Some states already require verification.

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Firms such as Home Depot have also chosen to adopt measures that make it more difficult for thieves who try to resell their products: traceable codes, labels that can identify stolen merchandise, carts and chips that make it difficult to leave the store without going through the checkout, etc.

Claudio Schwarz Q8kr Ie6wni Unsplash

The role of online platforms. At the center of the debate is the role played by online platforms. Are eBay, Amazon or Facebook Marketplace responsible for what their users sell? Should all vendors be required to identify themselves? How to address the problem in the case of platforms with sellers spread across countries with different legislation? The challenge is difficult. Wallapop alone registers between 20,000 and 30,000 daily objects in its moderation filters.

Are the webs moving tab? Although his response does not meet the demands of the chains, the platforms have already taken steps to tackle the problem. Both Amazon and eBay or Facebook include guidelines on the sale of stolen or counterfeit products and Amazon claims to dedicate a significant deployment of personnel and funds to the prevention of fraud and abuse.

“Amazon does not allow third-party sellers to list stolen products in our store. We work closely with law enforcement, retailers, and brands to stop the bad guys and hold them accountable, including holding funds, account termination, and referral to law enforcement. Business Insider.

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Verification and company policies. The multinational assures CNBC that for years it has been applying a program that requires that “the vast majority” of sellers show some identification and verify their address, a measure that – as they recognize from the sector itself – does not usually pose an obstacle for those who They want to circumvent their rules. The firm still ensures that it has the resources to find out, for example, if an account has changed hands.

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Facebook Marketplace and eBay are also clear in their use policies. The first encourages users to go to the police in each area with screenshots or messages if they suspect that a product is stolen. As for eBay, the message also leaves little doubt: “If you see any stolen items, immediately contact the competent authorities.”

Also a question of image. At stake is not only the value of the stolen merchandise, but also the very image of the platforms and the trust they convey. “If people hear stories about stolen goods being sold on eBay, if they receive stolen goods and then contact the police, we are certainly going to lose customers,” the company acknowledges. In his case, to avoid it, he even uses a program (PROACT) that allows retailers to report thefts and then probes for products that correspond to that description on his website.

Image | Adrian Sulyok (Unsplash) and Claudio Schwarz (Unsplash)

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