Attorney General and Maine Public Health Director Warn Consumers about Health Risks Associated with Buying Stolen Retail Merchandise

November 24, 2008

As the economy worsens, Mainers are tightening their belts and looking for the best deals they can get on all of their purchases. However, state officials warn consumers that some ?good deals? they may find through online auction sites may come at a serious cost to their health.

Attorney General Steve Rowe and Public Health Director Dr. Dora Anne Mills teamed up today to warn consumers about a type of retail crime that can lead to public health risks. Organized retail crime involves the organized theft of retail merchandise that is resold to consumers through online auction sites and through other outlets, like local flea markets.

These organized crime rings target over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, baby formula, tobacco cessation products, pregnancy strips, diabetic test strips, cosmetics and similar types of personal care items. These items are brought to warehouses where they are stored in unsanitary conditions with unregulated temperatures. Several of these operations actively change dates on expired products or change labels on cheaper products to make them appear like more expensive products.

?We have serious concerns that consumers are unwittingly buying tainted and unsafe stolen products through online transactions,? said Attorney General Rowe. ?Consumers are looking for ways to save money, but they should remember that a good deal through an online auction site won?t be a good deal if the product is spoiled, expired or defective. I urge consumers to consider whether they would buy the same product from an unlicensed street vendor before completing the transaction.?

Dr. Mills warned that there is a reason why baby formula is being sold on online auction sites at 60% of retail value. ?Maybe it?s because a parent no longer needs the product, but maybe it?s because the product has been stolen and not properly maintained. Some of these transactions may be perfectly safe, but the worst case scenario is a mother feeding her baby tainted infant formula or a person with diabetes becoming ill because the test strips he?s using are no longer working properly.?

Mills also warned of dangerous viruses that are transmitted by infected rodents. She explained that much of the stolen merchandise is stored in warehouses and garages where there is no rodent control. If the external packaging of products is exposed to rodent feces and urine, the packaging can transmit disease and cause illness. The National Retail Federation estimates that as much as 40% of the items sold online through auction sites could be stolen goods from retail locations. Retailers large and small lose over $30 billion annual to theft which leads to higher prices for all consumers. Money earned through these theft rings is often used to fund other criminal activity, like the production of illicit drugs.

?All Mainers are feeling the effects of higher heating costs and an uncertain economy. Although the temptation is there to try to seek out good deals on everyday products to save a few bucks, we want to encourage Mainers to make sure they know who they are doing business with so they can have faith in the products they are buying,? stated Curtis Picard, Executive Director of the Maine Merchants Association.

Picard emphasized that there is no risk of a product being stolen when buying products online from a storefront or catalogue business. The risk comes when purchasing consumer items through online auction sites.

In October of 2008, Attorney General Steve Rowe formed the Attorney General?s Organized Retail Crime Task Force to address the issue in Maine. The Task Force is comprised of 14 individuals representing retailers, law enforcement, prosecutors and public health officials throughout Maine.


NEWS RELEASE November 24, 2008 Jessica Maurer, Special Assistant Attorney General, 207-626-8515 or John Martins, DHHS Director of Communications, 207-287-5012 or Curtis Picard, Maine Merchants Association, 207-623-1149 or