A 17-person crime team equipped with a surveillance van outfitted with 360-degree cameras and a high-tech telescope—not exactly what you might expect from CVS. But as Rebecca Ballhaus and Shalini Ramachandran write for the Wall Street Journal, that's exactly what the retailer has in place to try to combat the criminals who obtain goods stolen from their stores and then turn around and sell those items online. And we're not talking about a purloined razor or two: These are organized rings carrying out massive efforts, with total retail theft pegged at $45 billion a year. Ballhaus and Ramachandran center their story on Ben Dugan, the top investigator for CVS, who says the company is on track to close 73 cases with police this year involving $104 million of stolen goods.
As the story explains, "boosters" (often drug addicts) are the ones employed by the organizers to steal—the story opens with Dugan surveilling a man who tosses $1,000 of allergy medication from a San Francisco CVS into a trash bag and simply walks out of the store. They're turning around and selling their goods for a fraction of their retail value to a "street-level fence" who gets them into the hands of a distributor; investigators say one alleged distributor in Katy, Texas, had installed an elevator in his home to deal with $5 million in goods sold over three years. But the story suggests there's another somewhat nefarious player: Amazon. The companies and their investigators say it doesn't play ball when asked to provide seller information (eBay is much more cooperative) and doesn't vet sellers to the degree they'd like to see. Amazon "may be the largest unregulated pawnshop on the face of the planet," says one Colorado police sergeant. (Read the full story here.)