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Online sales of stolen gear prompt call to list serial numbers

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The US House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary yesterday heard police and retail witnesses call for eBay to include serial numbers in its auction postings.

Members of the Committee said the issue of organised shop lifting needed action from legislators because it was now costing US retailers $30bn a year.

Brad Brekke, a VP of asset protection at Target, said a new approach was needed in order to identify high volume sellers and provide unique product numbers.

He said stores were targeted by organised gangs who then used websites, pawn shops, or flea markets to sell on the stolen goods. Brekke said websites could make simple changes to make life harder for the crooks.

But giving evidence for eBay, senior VP of rules, trust and safety Robert Chesnut said forcing sellers to provide serial numbers would not work because they could simply make up the numbers. He said the online auctioneer could "think about what we could do about high-volume sellers". But Chesnut warned that sellers are usually nervous of including information like names, addresses, and telephone numbers on auction listings.

He said the company already requires more information for some categories - car sales, for instance, must include vehicle identification numbers. He said eBay gets about 1,000 police enquiries a year relating to stolen goods.

Other witnesses criticised eBay for not co-operating with retail investigators as they do with police.

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