How Tide Became Illegal Currency

Talk about money laundering! Thefts of Tide liquid laundry detergent are becoming more and more common. Whether it's shoplifting, hijacking, or fencing, the profits are there, from the drug addict who needs a quick dollar to the grocer boosting his profit margin. Sergeant Aubrey Thompson of the Prince George’s County Police Department's Organized Retail Crime Unit first encountered Tide thefts in March of 2011 when a Safeway store reported losing thousands of dollars to detergent theft every month.

Later, Thompson reviewed weeks’ worth of the Safeway’s security footage. He found that more than two dozen thieves, working in crews, were regularly raiding the store’s household-products aisle, sometimes returning more than once the same day and avoiding detection by timing their heists to follow clerks’ shift changes. Owners and managers of other area stores, having seen Thompson on the news, reached out to him to report their own vanishing Tide bottles. Since then, the oddly brand-loyal crime wave has gone national, striking bodegas, supermarkets, and big-box discounters from Austin to West St. Paul, Minnesota. In New York, employees at the Penn Station Duane Reade nabbed a man trying to abscond with Tide bottles he’d stuffed into a suitcase. In Orange County, an attempted Tide theft led to a high-speed chase that included the thief crashing his SUV into an ambulance. Last year, for the first time, detergent made the National Retail Federation’s list of most-targeted items. Says Joseph LaRocca, founder of the trade group RetailPartners, who helped compile the report: “Tide was specifically called out.”

New York magazine traces the reasons for the rise in stolen Tide, which is a combination of the detergent's expense, the brand loyalty of its users, the ease of theft, a chain of buyers and sellers looking for a profit, and a manufacturer who appears to almost take pride in the black market status of its product. Link

(Image credit: Victor Prado/New York Magazine. Typography by Kevin Dresser.)

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