Are you buying stolen goods?

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan

By District Attorney Summer Stephan

Everyone loves a bargain, especially with high inflation causing prices to skyrocket. But like all cautionary tales you are accustomed to reading from me, if it’s too good to be true, be suspicious.

This is especially relevant when buying goods online, which is a daily practice of millions of Americans. When comparing prices of a product you are clicks away from buying, be skeptical if you see the item listed drastically lower than what other sellers or store retailers are selling it for.

Heavily reduced prices and items with store tags still on them are telltale signs of stolen merchandise making it to online platforms. In San Diego, perpetrators have targeted stores including ULTA Beauty, Nordstrom Rack, Sunglass Hut, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Target, Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

You have likely seen news reports of smash and grab burglaries where throngs of thieves brazenly break into stores to steal whatever they can wrap their arms around or bandits smashing glass counters to steal jewelry or luxury goods. These items are stolen with the express purpose of eventually being sold to unsuspecting consumers.

If you are a bargain shopper, who prides yourself on getting the lowest price, be aware that even if you unknowingly buy stolen merchandise, you are contributing to the destruction of legitimate retailers, and you could keep thieves in business. When stores are repeatedly victimized, they have to close locations, people lose jobs, and cities lose tax revenue. In the end, prices increase for all of us. Although you may save money on a suspiciously low online purchase, the cost to your com¬munity is much greater.

Here are tips you should consider when buying products online from unvetted sources:

Most stolen goods sold online are athletic clothes such as Nike, fragrances, cosmetics, tools, golf clubs and Legos. (These products are stolen every day from San Diego stores.)

When shopping for a product online, check the name of the seller to see if it is logical for that seller to be offering that product at that price.

Name brand products such as Milwaukee tools, Clinique cosmetics, and Enfamil baby formula are not sold at heavily discounted prices online from random sellers.

If someone knocked on your door and offered to sell you a KitchenAid mixer sealed in a box for $50, what would you think?

Products sold online from unknown sources can be counterfeit and even harmful, such as lightbulbs, batteries and pet medicine.

You might be wondering what is being done to fight this battle. The California Highway Patrol has an Organized Retail Crime Task Force, which was established in 2019, to fight the rise of retail thefts, smash-and-grab burglaries and widespread shoplifting that has California beleaguered in in recent years.

A recent law that went into effect last year attempts to regulate online marketplaces by requiring sellers to include contact and bank account information, as well as a seller’s physical address. This is the first step legislators have taken to try to reduce organized retail theft.

Now that you are aware of how this nefarious business works, you can help put a stop to repeated theft by not buying merchandise from suspicious sellers.

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and the public in order to keep you safe. I hope these consumer and public safety tips have been helpful.