A trio of New York-based Chinese nationals have been charged with allegedly running an organized retail theft ring in Fairfax, Virginia.
“You’re talking thousands and thousands of dollars in theft,” said Fairfax County PD Sergeant Chris Rekas according to Fox5 DC on April 21.
The case was publicized by the Department on Facebook and Twitter earlier in the day where they stated the Tysons Urban Team “was alerted to multiple traveling organized retail theft groups performing fraudulent purchases and returns in a neighboring jurisdiction.”
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Accompanying the announcement was a photograph of more than 25 bags seized in the operation, mostly branded with the Macy’s logo.
Fairfax PD stated that the next day, the team “observed three men at Tysons Corner Center making fraudulent merchandise returns.”
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After arresting the men, officers allege they discovered five pieces of counterfeit identification, $33,000 worth of merchandise composed of 154 different items, and $20,000 in gift cards.
Fox5 states that three men, Da Lin, Zujin Qiu, and Zhiyong Wang, residents of New York State, were arrested and charged.
The article explains the crime as one involving “using fake information to fraudulently purchase tens of thousands of dollars of items, only to return them at different stores — thereby converting the merchandise into store credit and cash.”
The Tysons Urban Team (TUT) was created by Fairfax PD to patrol the Tyson Corner Center malls. Reporting as far dated as 2019 by local media outlet WJLA stated they have “caught domestic and international thieves working at these two malls.”
Over the 6 years prior to the article, the TUT had not only busted organized retail theft rings from out of state, but from countries such as Romania, Russia, and mainland China.
WJLA states that in 2018 alone the team made 246 arrests.
But to put the size of the trend into perspective, a 2017 local news article by Patch stated that police had recovered $315,000 in “stolen property and assets” in 2016 alone.
February reporting by NBC Washington explained that organized shoplifting has become something of an epidemic, noting a report authored for the Virginia State Legislature found a staggering “$1.3 billion in merchandise is stolen this way annually.”
The article stated that the Legislature recently passed new laws that would redefine Virginia criminal code to classify retail merchandise thefts exceeding $5,000 in value over a 90 day period with the intent to resell the goods as a Class 3 Felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Virginia’s Republican lawmakers were quoted as stating that perps are not people facing financial hardship and stealing to make ends meet, but instead the activities have become a form of business where “thieves often sell the stolen merchandise through Amazon, eBay and other online marketplaces,” NBC summarized.
To the contrary, a public defender who founded a criminal justice reform organization differed in opinion, stating, “The premise behind the bill is a manufactured controversy.”
One State Democrat stated that “a lot of these people who are committing multiple thefts are drug addicts or poor people.”
In some cases this can be true, at least in terms of the people committing the theft.
On Twitter, Seattle-based social media journalist, a former reporter for ABC affiliate KOMO News, Jonathan Choe, extensively documented in December of 2022 a “black market of stolen goods” operating in the city’s Little Saigon district.
Choe noted Little Saigon, which has become rife with drug addicts and homeless, is frequented by a variety of people looking for a quick deal on anything from food stamps to stolen meat to stolen goods.
“Folks buying including little Vietnamese grandmas looking for deals,” Choe stated.
One video Choe filmed showed a person using a small torch to burn a security device off a pair of stolen Nike shoes.
“Paper towels, meat, cosmetics, razors, LEGO’s, POKEMON cards, sneakers, lux hand bags, infant formula are hot. Guarantee it’s there right now,” Choe reported on New Year’s Day.
The problem is even seen North of the border in Canada.
On April 3, network media outlet Global News reported on a drug trafficking bust in Victoria that not only uncovered “2.5 kilograms of drugs, including cocaine and fentanyl,” but $94,000 in stolen retail merchandise, including “clothing, wallets, sunglasses, electronics, and more.”
“According to police, the suspects in the operation would use a centralized phone number to sell the stolen goods to buyers in exchange for drugs,” Global stated.
The article quoted the Victoria Police Department as elaborating, “Individuals involved in the operation would often make requests or provide lists of desired items to property crime offender.”
In February, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) alerted the public that a “Chinese organized crime group” based in New York State had stolen the identities of more than 3,000 Texans of Asian ethnicity after a November of 2020 hack on state government servers saw almost every resident have their driver’s licenses and other personal data captured.
The impact on U.S. retailers is often incredibly significant. In November of 2022, Target Chief Financial Officer Michael Fiddelke told investors during the conference call for his company’s disappointing Q3 earnings that “incremental shortage,” finance speak for stolen merchandise, was up a staggering $400 million compared to 2021.
A spokesperson for the company clarified to Yahoo Finance that the shortage was specifically categorized as “organized retail crime.”
Fiddelke added that there are “a handful of things that can drive shrink in our business and theft is certainly a key driver.”
The CFO also stated that, “We know we’re not alone across retail in seeing a trend that I think has gotten increasingly worse over the last 12 to 18 months,” adding that the situation “becomes an increasing headwind on our business and we know the business of others.”
Target’s shares fell close to 17 percent, more than $30 per share, on the news.
An April report by the National Retail Federation (NRF) calculated that organized retail crime rings had “cost American businesses $94.5 billion in losses in 2021 and organized retail crime incidents soared by 26.5 percent during the same time period,” Vision Times reported.