Grey Markets in Everything

Even thieves need supply chain management:

In this way, Rogers and his investigation team learned that the stolen goods were entering a highly organized distribution chain that often began with the hundreds of flea markets that had sprung up among the suburban sprawl of cities across the country. Crooked flea-maret venders would buy stolen goods from boosters, then put a few samples out on their tables—“as a marketing ploy,” Rogers says. “Because the next-level-up buyer, a ‘middle buyer’—often ex-cons who had discovered this great opportunity—made a habit of going to flea markets looking for product. When he saw Tylenol on a vender’s tabletop, he’d say, ‘Can you get me more Tylenol in fifty-count gelcaps?’” The vender, if he did not have the item in stock, would tell his boosters what to go and steal. “We’d catch boosters with lists of stuff to steal all the time,” Rogers says.

And note the choice of firm boundaries:

Typically, the middle buyers would sell the products to a “cleaning house”—in most cases, a three-to-five-thousand-square-foot warehouse staffed with undocumented workers who job was to remove price stickers, E.A.S. tags, and identifying store labels. … The cleaned products were shrink-wrapped and put in master cartons to look as if they had been bought from the manufacturer, then sold to corrupt wholesalers who would commingle the stolen goods with legitimately purchased products and sell them back to retailers—often to the same store from which they had been stolen.

The source Jon Colapinto’s “Stop, Thief!”, in the September 1, 2008 issue of the New Yorker. Did you know that Target has a crime lab? (Aislinn: “You’ll know that CSI has completely run out of ideas when they add CSI:Target.”) Or that some shoplifters now carry Tasers? Sadly, I can’t give the article an unqualified endorsement. It begins promisingly—“On a recent morning, a dapper man in his fifties with a narrow mustache, dressed in a black Armani suit, strolled past the cosmetics counter on the main floor of a midtown Manhattan department store.”—only to reveal that this dapper fellow is in fact the store cop. The shoplifters are more fun.