The Maui News
Homeland Security Investigations plans to combat organized retail crime in Hawaii amid growing concerns about attacks on state-level stores and schemes that generate an estimated $69 billion in illicit profits in the United States each year.
HSI works with the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists, also known as ACAMS, to help combat organized retail crime, which involves the large-scale theft of retail merchandise with intent to sell.
“In Hawaii, organized retail crime doesn’t just affect large department stores. Small businesses are hit particularly hard.” That said the responsible special agent John F. Tobon in a press release on Tuesday. “It’s hurting the economy, business owners and consumers in many ways.”
Unlike shoplifters, organized robberies commit large-scale thefts that rely on teams of “Booster” who steal goods from large retail stores, “Cleanser” which disguise the origin of stolen goods, “Fencer” who resell products through brick-and-mortar fronts and major e-commerce sites, and professional money launderers who funnel illicit profits to criminals who orchestrate schemes. In many cases, organized theft groups resort to violence or violent threats against retail workers.
“Organized retail crime is leading to increasingly brazen, violent attacks on retail stores across the country, and many of the criminal rings orchestrating these thefts are also involved in other serious criminal activities.” said Steve Francis, acting Executive Associate Director of HSI. “Dealing with this growing threat is important to the safety of store associates, customers and communities across the country.”
A joint report by the two organizations highlights red flags associated with criminal organizations, including large purchases of prepaid cards, expensive money transfers linked to wholesale companies involved in health and beauty products, and large purchases of lighter fluid or heat guns by others .
The report, “Detecting and Reporting Illegal Financial Flows Associated with Organized Theft Groups and Organized Retail Crime”, also outlines how organized criminals steal and resell goods through online marketplaces and front companies, laundering an estimated $69 billion in illicit profits each year through the US financial system and trade-based money laundering schemes.
Law enforcement agencies, retailers, online marketplaces and financial institutions need to work together in public-private partnerships to facilitate information sharing and coordinate actions that help investigators better tackle organized retail crime, the report says. Banks and other institutions may also consider “reasonable” Enhance anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing compliance programs to detect and report organized retail crime activities.
“Organized retail theft is a low-risk, high-reward crime that generates nearly $70 billion in the United States alone, and much of that money is channeled to financial institutions under the guise of legitimate sales through online marketplaces.” said Lauren Kohr, co-author of the report and ACAMS Senior Director of Anti-Money Laundering in the Americas. “For this reason, it is critical that banks and other financial institutions are not only aware of the scale of the problem, but also actively work to identify and report related suspicious activity.”
Members of the public can report suspicious activity, including organized retail crime, by calling the toll-free tipping hotline at (866) 347-2423.