Many of us do our retail shopping online. Often a Google search helps us to identify the best price for the product we are shopping for. How many times have you searched for a product and found the product being offered on a no-name retail platform or Craigslist or Ebay or even Amazon for a price that is far below what the big retailers are charging. Score!

Yes, you may have scored but you may not realize it, but you might be buying a product from a “fence.” A fence is a person who sells stolen merchandise. The buyer of that merchandise can be charged with “receiving stolen merchandise.” Now I am not suggesting that if you buy a product at a fantastic price on the web you have exposed yourself to a criminal charge; one of the essential elements of receiving stolen merchandise is knowledge that the merchandise is stolen. But, if you are looking for the best price on the internet and finding products at prices that may be too good to be true, consider that you may be buying stolen merchandise.

This is far more common than people realize.  According to the California Attorney General, these types of operations are not unique. Late last year, authorities arrested a San Diego County woman who was running a huge retail theft ring. Huge as in an estimated $8M worth of merchandise stolen.

The suspect allegedly ran her theft ring by recruiting young women – some even from out-of-state— to steal specific beauty products mainly from Ulta Beauty and Sephora across 21 counties in California, including all the Southern California counties. The ringleader provided lists of products to shoplift to her army of shoplifters. They then turned over the stolen loot to the ringleader of the operation where she would resell these products on her Amazon online beauty store. The shoplifters would get a cut of the proceeds.

The operation went on for years before it was busted. Authorities started investigating in September 2021, but it was not until December 2023 that arrests were made. It is surprising it took so long as her operation was sloppy and left a trail at every turn. But, in the meantime, it is estimated that she made almost $2M in sales on her Amazon storefront —and that was just in 2022. That is a lot of unsuspecting customers who bought from her site in search of a good deal.

This is a crime just begging to be committed. Consider all the online opportunities to sell merchandise at prices well below retail – there are a lot of customers looking for a bargain. Consider also that shoplifting merchandise valued at under $950 is a misdemeanor that carries negligible punishment. Even if one of the shoplifters in the ring gets caught, the consequences are minimal.

Fortunately, this woman was finally caught, but how many others, who may be a bit smarter than she was, are out there carrying on these operations. If law enforcement is correct, the answer is many. And you may be unwittingly contributing to this criminal activity. There’s an old saying that is apt here: If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Consider your online purchases carefully.

Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg is available for a complimentary consultation to discuss your criminal matter. He will review your case and give you his assessment of your best defense options. You may contact him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at