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Tide of Thefts

Claim:   U.S. stores are experiencing a rash of thefts of Tide brand laundry detergent.

UNDETERMINED

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, March 2012]

Are people stealing Tide to pay for drugs and is it an epidemic?
 

Origins:   On 12 March 2012, The Daily, an iPad publication, reported on a "Grime Wave": a rash of store thefts of Tide brand laundry detergent that had left law enforcement officials across the country puzzled. According to the report, some cities were setting up special task forces to stop Tide theft, retailers were taking special security precautions to protect their Tide, and one Minnesota man stole $25,000 worth of the product before recently being caught. The proffered reasons behind the Tide crime wave were that laundry detergent is a household staple with a relatively high price ($10 to $20 a bottle) which is easily resold to consumers (or other stores), that it's impossible to track, and that Tide is the most recognizable and popular of detergent brands.

One portion of the Daily report linked the Tide-stealing spree to the drug trade and left some readers wondering whether the article was intended as satire:
Most thieves load carts with dozens of bottles, then dash out the door. Many have getaway cars waiting outside.

"These are criminals coming into the store to steal thousands of dollars of merchandise," said Detective Harrison Sprague of the Prince George’s County, Md., Police Department, where Tide is known as "liquid gold" among officers.

He and other law enforcement officials across the country say Tide theft is connected to the drug trade. In fact, a recent drug sting turned up more Tide than cocaine.

"We sent in an informant to buy drugs. The dealer said, 'I don't have drugs, but I could sell you 15 bottles of Tide,'" Sprague told The Daily. "Upstairs in the drug dealer's bedroom was about 14 bottles of Tide laundry soap. We think [users] are trading it for drugs."

Police in Gresham, Ore., said most Tide theft is perpetrated by "users feeding their habit."

"They'll do it right in front of a cop car — buying heroin or methamphetamine with Tide," said Detective Rick Blake of the Gresham Police Department. "We would see people walking down the road with six, seven bottles of Tide. They were so blatant about it."
The following day, FoxNews.com (which is owned by the same parent corporation as The Daily) questioned the article, reporting that evidence supporting claims of an alleged nationwide rise in Tide detergent theft appeared to be scant:
While police acknowledge that name-brand household items are commonly swiped from store shelves, authorities in at least two states referenced by [The Daily] say they have not seen a specific rise in stolen Tide detergent.

Lt. Matt Swenke of the West St. Paul Police Department in Minnesota referenced one case of a man suspected of stealing $25,000 worth of Tide detergent from a Walmart in West St. Paul over a 15-month period. He said the man, identified as 53-year-old Patrick Costanzo, was seen on surveillance video stocking up his
shopping cart with various items, including Tide, and walking out of the store without paying.

But, Swenke said, "We haven't noticed anything in terms of this being a rising problem." He said of the five major retailers in the West St. Paul area, only one store — Walmart — came forward to police about thousands of dollars of missing Tide inventory believed to have been taken by Costanzo.

"As of yet, we have not been contacted by any of our larger retail establishments," Swenke told FoxNews.com. "I don't know any other jurisdictions in Minnesota that have had that volume."

Authorities in Kentucky also backed away from the claim that Tide theft is on the rise.

Lt. Shannon Smith of the Somerset Police Department recalled a case from 2011 in which three individuals were charged with shoplifting from Cincinnati-based Kroger stores as well as from a local Walmart. Smith says the alleged shoplifters made off with several items, including Tide detergent, and then sold them on the black market to small, privately-owned stores. [H]e stressed that Tide theft, in particular, is no more widespread in the Somerset area than theft of other popular household items.

Retailers, meanwhile, also are denying reports of a new spike in stolen Tide products.

"We are not experiencing a 'wave' of Tide thefts," CVS/pharmacy public relations director Mike DeAngelis wrote.
Other mainstream news outlets who followed up on the story reported instances of thieves' pilfering Tide detergent from stores, but in many of those cases the shoplifters were caught stealing a variety of household goods, not just Tide. Some outlets however, reported information along the lines of the The Daily's original article. For example, an Associated Press account stated:
"We've seen organized retail crime, or the theft of goods for profit, resale or barter, for many years now," said Joseph LaRocca, senior adviser on asset protection for the National Retail Federation. LaRocca said that Tide had not shown up previously on lists of the most commonly targeted items, but that several retailers told him this week it has been a problem.

In Prince George's County, police said they learned from informants, undercover officers and other sources that drug dealers encourage their customers to pay with shoplifted Tide instead of cash.

"I'm out of marijuana right now, but when I get re-upped I'll hook you up if you can get me 15 bottles of Tide," one dealer was quoted as telling an informant, according to police.



Surveillance videos from a Safeway in Bowie, Md., showed crews of two or three people entering the store, loading up shopping carts and rushing outside, where they loaded the detergent into a waiting car. Police made nearly 30 arrests when they broke up the theft ring last fall.

Employees at a Duane Reade drugstore inside New York City's Penn Station said that a few weeks ago, a man walked in with a suitcase and filled it up with bottles of Tide. He was caught on a security camera and detained.

Several retailers were tightlipped about the problem. A Safeway spokesman said only that Tide thefts aren't unique to the chain's stores. A Target representative said the company is aware of the issue and encouraging stores to be vigilant.
Last updated:   15 March 2012

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Sources:

    Beno, Leah.   "Police Catch Serial Tide Detergent Swiper in Minn."
    KMSP-TV [Minneapolis].   12 March 2012.

    Corbin, Cristina.   "Police Say Reports of Nationwide Spike in Tide Thefts Doesn't Wash."
    FoxNews.com.   13 March 2012.

    Nestel, M.L.   "Grime Wave."
    The Daily.   12 March 2012.

    Nuckols, Ben.   "Thieves Rolling Tide Detergent Out of Stores."
    Associated Press.   14 March 2012.