Home Depot says stores are getting hit by organized criminals

ATLANTA — Atlanta-based Home Depot said it is stepping up security at stores in Georgia and across the country after a rash of retail thefts by organized criminals.

“You know, people walking out with shopping carts full of products and quickly reselling that on online marketplaces, that’s typically what you would see,” said Mike Combs, director of organized retail crime investigations for The Home Depot.

Combs said with more people shopping online during the pandemic, retail criminals seized a new opportunity by stealing merchandise, sometimes in bulk, and then selling it through online platforms such as Amazon, Letgo and Facebook Marketplace.

“Sadly, it’s not just online marketplaces that are driving this, but the drug addiction problem we have in this country,” Combs said. “Some individuals are targeted by these criminal networks to go steal for them.”

Almost $70 billion was stolen from retailers through organized crime in 2020. This year’s total likely will exceed that figure according to Chris Carr, Georgia’s attorney general. Carr said proceeds from retail theft help fund other crimes.

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“Interpol will tell you organized retail crime has a number of criminal elements—human trafficking, drug trafficking, corruption, bribery, you name it,” Carr said.

Many people unwittingly buy stolen goods online, but police said there are red flags that should make consumers suspicious, such as a heavily discounted price for newly packaged merchandise.

“If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” said Chuck McPhilamy, an officer with the Marietta Police Department. “That’s time to do a little digging ... on your own. Then, look at how I can contact law enforcement and get them involved so we can partner together.”

Congress is considering a law to crack down on the sale of stolen goods online. The Informed Consumers Act would require online marketplaces such as Amazon, to get a government ID and perhaps other information. The reseller would then be required to disclose to the consumer the seller’s name, business address and email address.

Amazon opposes the idea, saying it would create unnecessary red tape for honest entrepreneurs. The company also said it already has robust practices to vet prospective sellers and stop bad actors.