Expert explains why stolen merchandise doesn't always end up being returned to retail stores

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The images are unforgettable. Most recently, someone running from Union Square's Louis Vuitton with an armful of stolen merchandise, nearly 100 people running from the Walnut Creek Nordrstrom in a flash-mob style retail theft and over the summer, others running from Union Square's Neiman Marcus with armfuls of stolen handbags.

"I think that these brazen crimes are not just organized crime, they're borderline domestic terrorism," said Rachel Michelin, California Retailers Association President and CEO.

Rachel Michelin is President and CEO of the California Retailers Association. She says the stolen merchandise is being resold.

"They're not usually keeping it for themselves. They're selling it. There's a lot of places that these items go," said Michelin.

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"We're seeing more and more technology and more and more retailers that are able to tag their products so they know where that product is ending up. Kind of like a find your iPhone," she continued.

ABC7 News reached out to online retailers. eBay tells us they are committed to providing a secure online shopping experience and have zero tolerance for criminal activity on their platform. In an emailed statement, and eBay Spokesperson writes, "We have programs and policies in place to monitor our marketplace for stolen items. We also collaborate with government agencies to help prevent the sale of stolen goods on eBay."

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Multiple suspects have been arrested after a Louis Vuitton store in San Francisco was hit by thieves.



eBay, Fashionphile and the RealReal tell us they use LeadsOnline, a database for law enforcement to search items listed.

Over the summer, Fashionphile told ABC7 News LeadsOnline ensures their products are scrubbed against as many theft databases as possible, giving them the ability to spot stolen merchandise before it enters the resale ecosystem.

The RealReal said they give police departments nationwide full visibility into their inventory, including details like serial numbers and photos.

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Even if retailers do recover stolen goods, those items are often evidence in a case.

"So it doesn't necessarily mean they're going to have that back and be able to sell it in their store," said Michelin.

It's not just retailers who ultimately lose money, Michelin says cities like San Francisco and Walnut Creek also lose because they don't get the sales tax revenue.

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