eBay and Facebook Marketplace fuel NYC's shoplifting economy

A shoplifting epidemic costing retailers in New York state $4.4 billion a year is creating a shadow resale economy that ranges from eBay to bodegas, The Post has learned.

Shoplifting in New York City alone rose 64% from June 2019 to June 2023, according to the Council on Criminal Justice.

In 2022, the total estimated loss to shops in the state was $4.4 billion, Gov. Kathy Hochul said in February.

Goods are “boosted” into a shadow economy, from the most basic of being sold direct, to ultra-organized resale efforts using online marketplaces Courtesy of Morton Williams Supermarket
Middlemen in the shadow economy buy stolen goods for pennies on the dollar and then fence them in person or online marketplaces. Obtained by NY Post

And retailers and law enforcement told The Post that the need to sell the stolen goods has created a sprawling underground economy.

Thieves and middlemen are selling shoplifted goods on resale sites such as eBay and Facebook Marketplace and filling warehouse spaces at illegal pawn shops.

A raid in Queens found a space stuffed with apparently stolen goods — and a garbage bag full of removed security tags.

They are even “boosting” perishable items such as Häagen-Dazs ice cream directly to bodegas.

In one scam, they shoplift high-value items from national chains, have them returned to another branch out of state for credit and then sell the credit note for cash outside the branch.

The Suffolk County pawnshop was also selling luxury goods including these Gucci men's slide sandals, which were put on the defunct marketplace site Tradesy. Office of the District Attorney, Suffolk County
Premium ice creams like Häagen-Dazs are among targets for shoplifters who, supermarket bosses allege, “boost” them to nearby bodegas. Obtained by NY Post

At the most damaging levels, thieves are directed by Dickensian organizers with “shopping lists,” telling them exactly what to go after.

“They get shopping lists for items that include cellphones, power tools, handbags,” a law enforcement source who specializes in fraud told The Post.

“They bring stolen goods to (illicit) wholesalers in the five boroughs.”

Shoplifters — like this alleged thief caught on camera in a branch of Morton Williams in Manhattan — cost New York state's retailers $4.4 billion in losses in 2022, Gov. Kathy Hochul has warned, creating a huge underground economy. courtesy of Morton Williams Supermarket
Supermarkets are being targeted by shoplifters, like this alleged thief caught on camera in a Morton Williams, at the start of a shadow economy which involves the goods being resold, either directly or to middlemen. courtesy of Morton Williams Supermarket

The middlemen buy items for pennies on the dollar — “There is no underlying cost,” said the fraud specialist — and sell the goods.

“Members of the booster crew get their cash,” the source said.

“Then the dealer, if you will, distributes them through his own network, via storefronts, if he has them, or he puts them online and sells to consumers through Facebook Marketplace.”

Retailers have stepped up security, but the shadow economy which enables shoplifters like these, arrested in a Gristedes in Manhattan, has proven difficult to break. Obtained by NY Post

To seem like typical users of online marketplaces, the law enforcement source added, fences “sell one, list the next one and keep doing that all day. Or else they maintain multiple online identities.”

A report by the National Retail Federation and private security firm K2 in April 2023 found evidence of widespread use of Facebook Marketplace, which allows users to list items for sale directly, and Craigslist.

The report looked for listings of items typically targeted by organized retail theft rings — such as Tide pods, diapers and items listed as “new with tag” — and found that in New York, 26% of listings for those items had the hallmarks of “ organized retail crime.”

Suffolk County DA Raymond Tierney (second from right) led a bust of an illegal pawnshop where shoplifted goods were fenced, with many sold on eBay. One of the owners was also convicted of gun offenses.
A backroom of the illegal pawnshop in Brentwood, NY, busted by the Suffolk County DA was stuffed with stolen goods, including kitchen goods, luxury items and even professional building supplies, which were destined to be sold online.

Facebook Marketplace did not respond to a request for comment.

An eBay spokesperson told The Post, “eBay is committed to providing a secure online shopping experience. We have zero tolerance for criminal activity.”

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney said he had busted a super-size version of such an operation.

“We supervised the boosters and saw them transporting their goods to EZ Cash Pawn & Jewelry in Brentwood,” Tierney said.

“The goods, which seemed to be stolen locally, would be kept in a room behind the pawnshop. It looked like a Home Depot warehouse.”

Carlos Ulloa, the owner/operator of EZ Pawn, pleaded guilty to charges including money laundering and criminal possession of a weapon and was sentenced to five to 16 years.
Henry Delgado accused of attempted enterprise corruption. Prosecutors are seeking a six-month sentence.
Sandra Hinds, the manager of EZ Pawn, accused guilty of attempted enterprise corruption.
Sandra Cruz, the manager of the warehouse where stolen goods were stored, pleaded guilty to attempted enterprise corruption.

It was stuffed with items including DeWalt power tools, KitchenAid mixers, Singer sewing machines and Ninja Foodie Delux pressure cookers. There were also building supplies — and designer clothes and purses.

Court documents show they were sold on eBay and another website, Tradesy, a now-defunct marketplace for luxury goods.

As to how the thieves find the fences, Tierney said, “Based on our investigation, boosters learn of locations to fence stolen goods via word of mouth in the criminal community.”

Some fences run their own shops, where they mix stolen, counterfeit and discontinued items, presenting an extra challenge to law enforcement.

Expensive goods, like this $330 scarf, were sold on a now-defunct website called Tradesy, the Suffolk County bust found. Office of the District Attorney, Suffolk County
The Brentwood, NY, bust also found stolen items, including professional construction materials like this being sold on eBay. The platform told The Post it has measures to tackle illegal activity. Office of the District Attorney, Suffolk County

“There will be a cash register and racks of clothing. But the clothing is mostly stolen. Mixed in will be counterfeit and discontinued pieces from legitimate companies. That makes it more challenging for us,” the source said.

Shoplifters also coordinate to use return policies to profit.

“Home Depot has been trying to combat this for a long time,” said the law enforcement source. “The criminal will shoplift a power saw that sells for $600. Because people might be on the lookout for him, he'll drive to Pennsylvania.

“Then somebody with a fake driver's license will return it to Home Depot there for credit. We've seen thousands of it where there are hundreds of dollars, per driver's license, in returns.

Other items sold through the pawnshops were advertised with apparently valid documentation. The Suffolk County DA said they were stolen. Office of the District Attorney, Suffolk County

“And when Home Depot gets onto that license, they switch.”

Some thieves will sell their credit slips for cash outside the stores where they made the fraudulent return. “They'll sell $600 of Home Depot credits for $400 in cash,” the source said.

They will even go back into the Home Depot branch with the person they sold it to in case staff ask for ID when the credit slip is being used. “They'll be, like, 'This is how confident I am,'” the source said.

Cross-state travel is part of the pattern, Tierney told The Post.

“In a 2022 arrest, when a group cleaned out $94,000 worth of purses from a Balenciaga store in East Hampton, a defendant was wearing an ankle bracelet from a prior arrest in another jurisdiction,” he said.

Some designer goods wind up in shady retail stores that are loaded with stolen clothing, knockoffs and discontinued items that help to make things look legit. Obtained by NY Post
The raid in Queens found stolen items that still had anti-theft tags on them. Obtained by NY Post

In other cases that law enforcement had dealt with, said Tierney, “Shoplifters would start in New Jersey, begin driving, and basically shoplift their way to Suffolk County to deliver the goods.”

But often the illegal sales are far more direct: When city supermarkets get hit, the shoplifters turned around stolen food without missing a step.

“Shoplifters steal bacon and steak from us; then they are down in the subway, them selling to people,” Victor Collelo, meat and fish director for Morton Williams Supermarkets in New York City, told The Post.

“A girl who worked for me told me about getting her hair done in the Bronx. A guy was in there, taking orders from people, asking what kind of food they wanted. Then he was going to Morton Williams and stealing it.”

John Catsimatidis, CEO of the Gristedes and D'Agostino chains, has resorted to having Häagen-Dazs ice cream given codes so it can be traced when it is shoplifted and sold to bodegas.

With other perishable items, thieves have to turn them around quickly.

“Shoplifters steal all Häagen-Dazs from our supermarket and take it four blocks away to the nearest bodega,” John Catsimatidis, CEO of Gristedes and D’Agostino, told The Post.

Dominick Albergo, Catsimatidis' head of security, said, “The shoplifters come in with a garbage bag, put 30 containers into the bag and take off.

“Then we find them in the bodegas and tell the bodega owners that if we find them again, we will go to the precinct and have them locked up.

“The good news is, at that point, most of the bodegas got nervous about buying stolen goods.”

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