A good deal or a steal?

Browsing online

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Even though crude was down today, oil is still way higher than it was last year at this time and that has helped spread inflation throughout the economy.

If you look closely, you can find some pretty good bargains out there -- online is a good place to start, of course -- but did you you ever wonder why some of the prices you find on the web are so low?

Marketplace's Renita Jablonski explains that the Internet has brought a whole new meaning to the words "hot property."


Renita Jablonski: I was actually told to shop online during work hours. Sweet.

Here we go, let's see... first, to the Apple website to see how much a new iPod Nano costs. Alright, a 4 GB Nano goes for $149. Now, to eBay. Oh, wow; here's one for $61. Here's one for $85.

Joseph LaRocca tells me to take a closer look.

Joseph LaRocca: When someone has this seemingly unlimited supply of iPods at half the retail price, one has to question: where did these goods come from?

LaRocca is Vice President of Loss Prevention for the National Retail Federation. He says some of those iPods could be stolen. LaRocca says selling stuff out of the back of a truck is old school fencing. Now, it's e-fencing.

He says thieves can take advantage of the trust that customers have in sites like eBay and overstock.com. They can sell to people all over the world and they never have to show their faces.

LaRocca: The risk for the criminal has gone down and the profit for the criminal has gone up.

Because now, you can fence anything. Michael Ward is in the Assets Protections Department at Target.

Michael Ward: Teeth whitening strips, razor blades, items that you'd ordinarily think, "Well, you really can't make any profit stealing and reselling those items," you can using e-fencing.

The National Retail Federation says businesses lose more than $30 billion a year to theft. It estimates up to half the take ends up on the Internet and retailers are pushing for regulation.

Bring that up with Steve DelBianco and you can almost hear his eyes rolling. DelBianco is Executive Director of NetChoice, a coalition of tech companies and online consumers. He says attempts to regulate e-commerce are meant to scare consumers into thinking online bargains are shady. Just because something's cheap, it doesn't mean it's stolen.

Steve DelBianco: It's really about competition prevention. It's an organized effort by big box retailers, I think, to squash competition from other angles.

Legislation before Congress would make sites like eBay liable for selling stolen items. That may be a tough sell. Earlier this summer, a federal court ruled against Tiffany & Co. and found eBay is not responsible for tracking counterfeits on the site. A judge said when Tiffany identifies fakes, eBay responds quickly.

eBay attorney Edward Torporco says the same is true for stolen goods.

Edward Torporco: eBay already has an unmatched record of proactively working with law enforcement to prosecute individuals that engage in illegal conduct on the site.

Retailers say they need better access to the personal information of high volume sellers, like their real names and addresses. They say that would make it easier to build a case against questionable dealers.

Back to my iPod browsing online, the Retail Federation's Joseph LaRocca admits it's hard to tell whether I'm looking at something stolen.

LaRocca: There are legitimate reasons why someone might be selling a case of iPods.

In the world of e-fencing, it's not easy to tell the difference between a good deal and a steal.

In Los Angeles, I'm Renita Jablonski for Marketplace.

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