Georgia launches statewide retail, cyber crime unit amid battle with Internet trade group over ways to curb online thefts  (2024)

The Gist

While updates to Georgia’s law governing retail and cyber crimes are in legal limbo, a statewide unit created to combat those illegal activities is now in place.

The Organized Retail and Cyber Crime Unit launched Monday.

Meanwhile, an internet trade group called NetChoice last month sued Georgia over new amendments to the state’s Combating Organized Retail Crime Act. The amendments, also known as INFORM Act amendments — would require online classified sites to collect data on high-volume sellers who advertise online but collect payment in cash or some other offline method. These amendments were to go into effect the same day as the retail and cyber crime unit. The Combating Organized Retail Crime Act carries civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.

NetChoice, representing companies including Facebook parent Meta and Craigslist, allege some amendments in the law “will impose unprecedented and unconstitutional burdens on widely used online services that enable millions of prospective buyers and sellers in Georgia and throughout the country to communicate about potential in-person, offline sales.”

In the meantime, funding for the new state crime unit officially took effect today.

“We expect to announce new hires in the near future,” Kara Murray, communications director in Attorney General Chris Carr’s office, told State Affairs. Carr will oversee the new unit.

What’s happening

Data collection is just one part of a multi-layered state strategy to combat ongoing retail crimes at stores and online.

The Organized Retail and Cyber Crime Unit, a first for the state, will have prosecutors and investigators dedicated to dealing with organized retail theft and cyber crimes across the state. The unit is getting over $1.4 million from the state’s fiscal year 2025 budget which went into effect today.

“We’ve had lots and lots of folks with stuff stolen and put online,”Sen. John Albers said. “Crime in general continues to go up and is pervasive and in Georgia, we are going to protect our businesses and our consumers.”

Albers sponsored Senate Bill 472 — the Combating Organized Retail Crime Act — which led to the law.

Another $807,312 will go to expand the Gang Prosecution Unit in Columbus, Macon and Southeast Georgia. The attorney general’s Gang Prosecution Unit is currently in Atlanta, Albany and Augusta.

Why It Matters

Organized retail crime is pervasive nationwide. It involves groups of criminals stealing large amounts of goods from stores and then selling the stolen items online. Local news coverage is rife with incidents of smash and grabs at stores.

Georgia businesses are estimated to lose over $3 billion to retail theft every year. This includes $1.6 billion in stolen goods and $326 million in lost tax revenue, along with 17,000 lost jobs, according to the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

A 2021 study by the association also found that 3 in 4 retailers reported physical assaults against a store employee as a result of organized retail crime while 41% reported attacks involving weapons. Those crimes also led to other illegal activities such as human and drug trafficking, corruption, bribery and money laundering.

It’s also become a matter of safety, Albers said, recalling a case in Arizona where a group of criminals stole a tractor trailer full of baby formula which sat in the heat for nine months before it was sold online.

“Several kids became very ill,” said Albers. “And candidly, we could have had a baby die because of it.”

The law is needed to go after organized crime rings that steal merchandise from stores and then advertise them online.

Georgia lawmakers have been working several years now to crack down on the problem, Albers said.

In 2022, Georgia passed a law requiring high-volume sellers that collect electronic payment on platforms such as Amazon and eBay to provide bank account and contact information to the platform. The rules apply to sellers who make at least 200 unique sales worth at least $5,000 a year. The law was an attempt to discourage thieves from reselling stolen items.

A similar federal law passed in 2023.

Retailers wanted the law to be expanded to include people who advertise merchandise online but collect payments other ways. That would include online classified ad services such as Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Nextdoor and OfferUp. The new law would close such a loophole.

NetChoice says Georgia should be banned from enacting its new law because the 2023 federal law preempts states from writing further laws on the subject, news reports note.

What Next?

On Sunday, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia halted the state’s INFORM Act amendments — Act 564 — from going into effect Monday.

“We are relieved that the court halted Act 564 from hurting Georgia’s consumers and small businesses as our case proceeds,” said Chris Marchese, director of the NetChoice Litigation Center. “No matter how you look at it, Act 564 violates federal law and the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, smothering Georgia’s thriving businesses with red tape. We look forward to seeing Act 564 struck down in full.”

While NetChoice and Georgia duke it out in court, Albers believes Georgia will ultimately prevail.

“I think we will win the case,” Albers said.

Have questions, comments or tips? Contact Tammy Joyner on X@lvjoyneror at[emailprotected].

How is Georgia Keeping Up with the Changing Threats of Cybercrime?
Georgia launches statewide retail, cyber crime unit amid battle with Internet trade group over ways to curb online thefts  (2024)
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