Unraveling New York’s Shadow Retail Market: The Growing Epidemic of Shoplifting and Resale

New York’s retail landscape is grappling with a growing shoplifting epidemic. What might seem like isolated incidents are actually feeding into a burgeoning black market economy, as revealed by recent investigations by the New York Post. The constant robberies are costing New York retailers upwards of $4.4 billion a year.

The process is sophisticated and methodical. Robbers armed with “shopping lists” from their ring-leaders go target specific items from cellphones to high-end kitchen appliances. Stolen goods then go through a series of middlemen who sell the stolen items on online marketplaces like eBay and Facebook Marketplace.

According to a report by the National Retail Federation and security firm K2, a staggering 26% of listings for items suspected to be linked to organized crime were found on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace in New York. A report by the National Retail Federation and the security firm K2 shows that online platforms such as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace had 26% of the listings for items suspected of being connected to organized crime in New York.

The magnitude of this illicit trade is staggering. In 2022 alone, Governor Kathy Hochul disclosed that retailers in the state suffered losses estimated at $4.4 billion. The heart of this issue lies in New York City, which reported a 64% surge in shoplifting incidents from June 2019 to June 2023, as per data from the Council on Criminal Justice.

Law enforcement officials have uncovered intricate schemes where stolen items are “returned” to stores in different states for credit, circumventing security measures with fake identification. Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney revealed the scale of one operation, which involved an array of stolen goods, from power tools to designer clothes, sold on online platforms like eBay and Tradesy.

Moreover, the shadow retail market extends beyond online platforms. Thieves are now targeting perishable items, from Häagen-Dazs ice cream to premium cuts of meat, which are resold in subway stations or local bodegas.

Victor Collelo, Morton Williams Supermarkets’ meat and fish director, recounted incidents where stolen goods from his store were promptly resold in nearby neighborhoods, saying “Shoplifters steal bacon and steak from us; then they are down in the subway, selling them to people.” John Catsimatidis, CEO of Gristedes and D’Agostino supermarkets, told the Post that thieves had a swift turnaround for stolen foods, commenting that “Shoplifters steal all Häagen-Dazs from our supermarket and take it four blocks away to the nearest bodega.”

Dominic Albergo, head of security for Catsimatidis’ supermarkets, described instances where shoplifters swiftly fill garbage bags with stolen goods and vanish within moments.

It’s relatively easy money, highly lucrative and incredibly challenging for police to shut down. Electronics, supplements, tools and foods are stolen for their resale value, with thieves exploiting return policies of major retailers like Home Depot, conducting fraudulent returns across state lines. Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney commented that shoplifters would travel through multiple states and hit stores along the way to unload merchandise. “Shoplifters would start in New Jersey, begin driving, and basically shoplift their way to Suffolk County to deliver the goods,” said Tierney.