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Group asked to apologize for calling online vendors addicts

NetChoice, an e-commerce advocacy group, is calling on the National Retail Federation to apologize for calling online vendors addicts.

An e-commerce advocacy group is fuming over the retail industry's portrayal of online vendors as addicts and criminals and is demanding an apology. on Wednesday called for an apology from the National Retail Federation and Joseph LaRocca, NRF's vice president for loss prevention, after LaRocca told Congress on Monday that thieves who steal from retail stores are often driven to crime by the "addictive qualities" of online commerce.

LaRocca's comments came from the prepared testimony he gave during a hearing Monday of the House Judiciary's subcommittee on crime, terrorism, and homeland security. The subcommittee was considering three bills that are intended to combat organized retail crime, a good deal of which takes place online.

In his testimony (PDF), LaRocca said many thieves admit to becoming "hooked" to the ease and anonymity of selling products online.

"When they run out of 'legitimate merchandise,' they begin to steal intermittently, many times for the first time in their life, so they can continue selling online," he said in the testimony. "The thefts then begin to spiral out of control and, before they know it, they quit their jobs, are recruiting accomplices (some are even hiring 'boosters'), and are crossing state lines to steal-all so they can support and perpetuate their online selling habit."

NetChoice is saying that LaRocca and his organization should apologize to anyone who's ever sold anything online for those comments.

"At a time when big companies are looking to the government for bailouts, these entrepreneurs are working to create new jobs, pay their taxes, and build something for their future," said Steve DelBianco, NetChoice's executive director. "They are the true innovators--the hardest working, most productive workers in the world--and they deserve better than to be labeled as addicts and criminals by the mouthpiece for giant retail chains who are afraid of a little competition."

DelBianco, who also testified (PDF) at Monday's hearing, called the bills in question "competition-killing" and "destructive and dangerous."

Three bills were discussed Monday: The E-fencing Enforcement Act would require online marketplaces to retain the contact information of vendors who sell high volumes of items that match the description of stolen goods. It would also require online marketplaces to deny high-volume sellers access to the site if there were reason to believe their goods were acquired unlawfully. The Combating Organized Retail Crime Act also, among other things, requires online marketplaces to collect information about high volume vendors. The Organized Retail Crime Act would make an online marketplace potentially liable for stolen goods sold on its site.

LaRocca said he stands by his testimony.

"The testimony we submitted reflected the sentiments of many retailers that we work with," he said. "It's not to say all sellers in online marketplaces are involved in illegal activity, however, we're finding the ease of selling these products online is luring people into this. It's an issue we have worked closely with law enforcement over, with successful conclusions, however, we feel more needs to be done by online marketplaces."