New bill would target smash-and-grab thieves by forcing online sellers to identify themselves

A new bill would help protect consumers from playing a part in what's known as "organized retail crime" or "smash and grabs."

There has been a surge in large-scale smash and grabs across the country, in which large numbers of people swarm a store all at once, grab everything they can carry, and run out. The new legislation targets the destination of that stolen merchandise: some of it ends up being sold online, through platforms like eBay and Facebook Marketplace.

"Scammers are having a heyday online," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Chicago). She's sponsoring the INFORM Consumers Act, which would require platforms to verify sellers' identities.

"We think that would protect consumers and legitimate businesses," Schakowsky said.

The National Retail Federation reports a 57 percent increase in organized retail crime since the start of the pandemic, fueled in part by a massive surge in online shopping. At a Senate hearing in November, a CVS executive said that the average professional thief that targets a CVS gets away with $2,000 in merchandise in only two minutes.

"We have legitimate businesses trying to sell their products who are getting ripped off online," she said. "In the meantime, unfortunately, it's hard for consumers to be aware. We want to make sure that we eliminate the opportunity for defrauders and scammers to sell online."

Schakowsky said that her bill has bipartisan and bicameral support.