Retail lobby group set up to tackle ‘organised retail crime’

The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) along with more than a dozen other trade bodies to form a coalition to fight counterfeit goods on e-commerce sites.

The Buy Safe America coalition brings together heavyweights in the retail sector lie Walmart, Home Depot, Target and Best Buy and will consolidate their lobbying efforts to back legislation to force companies like Amazon, eBay and Facebook to regulate sellers on their platforms more effectively.

The new body refers to organised retail crime (ORC), which it defines as criminal networks that “steal merchandise in mass quantities from storefronts and sell those goods online” – for example through shoplifting – and also peddle “pirated and counterfeit goods.”

At the heart of the campaign is requiring online marketplaces to collect and verify basic information of third parties who sell products on their platforms, something that Amazon has pledged to do by September 1 in the US, although details of that plan remain sketchy.

The new coalition has the stated intention of backing the passage of the Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers (INFORM Consumers) Act which was introduced by lawmakers last month.

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The INFORM Act will require online marketplaces to collect and verify third-party sellers’ government ID, tax ID, bank account information and contact information and require high-volume sellers to disclose contact information to consumers.

Buy Safe America says that legislation “will shine a bright light on the dark corners of the Internet, and make it much more difficult for fraudsters and criminals to anonymously sell counterfeit and stolen goods.”

With the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) saying that the sale of fraudulent goods is now a $509bn criminal enterprise, the coalition says that the criminal networks are becoming increasingly aggressive and brazen.

“This jeopardises the safety for frontline retail workers, puts consumers at risk of buying potentially dangerous products, and undermines legitimate businesses,” it maintains.

Amazon's chief executive Jeff Bezos came in for stiff questioning at a congressional hearing last month on the issue of counterfeiting and related crime, and whether Amazon benefits financially from the sale of these items on its third-party seller Marketplace.

“Bezos admitted during the hearing that stolen and counterfeit goods were being sold on the Amazon marketplace, and this issue continues to persist on the company’s platform,” says new the lobbying group.

“His responses raised further questions about Amazon’s willingness to crack down on these bad actors who are anonymously selling stolen or counterfeit goods to unsuspecting consumers.”

In particular, responding to a question from Rep Lucy McBath (D-Georgia), Bezos admitted that he neither knew whether name, address, and phone number were collected from sellers nor how or by whom their identities are verified.

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