Black Market Billions: How Organized Retail Crime Funds Global Terrorists Hardcover – Nov 11 2011
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From the Back Cover
“Most people wouldn’t think that buying an off-the-truck designer bag could fund terrorism. In my three decades of experience as a former Detective Investigator with the NYPD and now running a private investigation firm, I can say that Hitha understands and explains why this is a dangerous mentality to have. In Black Market Billions, she spells out why the mindset that a stolen designer handbag is a bargain disappears once you consider that your purchase may be funding a deadly organized crime group.”
—Thomas Ruskin, Former NYPD Detective Investigator and President of CMP Protective and Investigative Group, Inc.
“Written like a financial thriller, Black Market Billions shines a bright light on the dark side of capitalism. The book opened my eyes to what really goes on behind the scenes in high-end retail, and the best part is you can feel her courage and passion on every page.”
—Lawrence G. McDonald, The New York Times Bestselling Author, A Colossal Failure of Common Sense
“Black Market Billions is a must-read for all government policymakers, business leaders, opinion makers, and consumers. With global markets in chaos, states in recession, and extremists waging war against civilization, few topics are as vital to our security as the nexus between organized retail crime and terrorism. This book will change the debate as we come to understand just how much terrorism depends on funds raised by crime. This is an immensely important book for understanding why terrorism remains part of modern politics and why societies must find ways to cut off the financial tentacles of support.”
—William C. Martel, Associate Professor of International Security Studies, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University
“Counterfeiting is one of the least-acknowledged, most-damaging crimes of our time. In Black Market Billions, Hitha exposes this nefarious world of the violent syndicates and the crimes they commit—human trafficking, forced child labor, money laundering—and discovers that the profits fund even worse acts such as terrorism. You’ll never look at a fake Louis Vuitton handbag the same way again.”
—Dana Thomas, Author, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster
Organized retail crime is now a $38 billion business. Synchronized global teams are pilfering immense volumes of high-value products, counterfeiting even more—and using the profits to support the world’s most vicious terrorists and criminal gangs.
In this eye-opening exposé, business journalist Hitha Prabhakar connects the dots and follows the money deep into the world’s fastestgrowing criminal industry. You’ll learn how the Internet, social media, and disposable cell phones have opened the floodgates for a new generation of criminals—and how their multimillion-dollar ripoffs are funding everyone from Al-Qaeda to Central America’s drug lords.
Black Market Billions draws on extensive first person interviews with law enforcement, industry personnel, and the criminals themselves. Prabhakar goes “inside” to reveal why the piracy economy has exploded...why preventative measures have failed...and what to expect next, as organized retail crime reaches a terrifying critical mass.
• Inside the massive, worldwide “piracy economy”
How organized retail crime went global—and what it means to you
• The money trail: from boosters and fences to consumers and terrorists
Shell warehouses and cargo theft: stealingfrom anyone, anywhere, anytime
• “Money laundering 2.0”: how terrorists are funded now
From ancient hawalas to twenty-first century gift cards
• Why the bad guys are still getting away with it
How terrorist funding keeps slipping through the cracks of today’s tougher laws
About the Author
Hitha Prabhakar is a New York-based reporter for Bloomberg Television, covering business news and financial markets with a particular focus on retail. Before joining Bloomberg Television in 2011, Prabhakar was founder and principal of The Stylefile Group, a retail consulting firm based in New York City, where she served as an advisor to hedge funds and other clients with long-term holdings in retail companies. Prior to that, Prabhakar served as a retail reporter for Forbes Media, covering the luxury industry as well as men’s fashion. She has written for Time, People, MSNBC.com, ELLE India, and Metro newspapers, among other publications. Prabhakar was formerly a contributor on CNBC and has had numerous television appearances as a retail analyst on networks including CBS, CNN, Fox News, Sky News, and Bravo. She holds degrees in philosophy and economics from Smith College and a master’s degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She also studied at the London School of Economics.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
However, from my own studying, following and putting out analysis on terrorism, prior to and following 911, I found myself too troubled by some assertions made early in this book.
For example, take the assertion: "These terrorist groups are hell bent on destroying the American economy, its people, and its way of life, but also the lives of people with their own countries who don't stand with them." This statement dangerously misleads the public.
First, one cannot throw all named organizations into one group. Second, their individual prime objectives differ, but both prior to and since 911 have been primarily focused on either over-throwing their own governments, which they considered oppressive, and / or getting all foreign troops out of their countries or region, or in the case of the Palestinians to gain back their homes or gain relief from Israel's occupation and blockades. Our "way of life" means zip to them. For example, the explicit objectives of the often referenced 1989 mis-named bin Laden fatwah (he was one of five signers) were explicit, i.e., 1) Free al-Aqsa Mosque, 2) Free Mecca, 3) Remove U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia. Nothing about "way of life," etc.
One should not confuse the Taliban and Afghanistan / Pakistan border chiefs with al Qaeda, The Taliban were unequivocal anti-terrorist, known to be "extreme" in their law enforcement, and considered themselves US allies up until our attack. Although not the US official perspective, they and the border tribes are in fact fighting an occupation force, which action is legal by international law i.e., UN Charter Article 51 (and thereby US Constitution Article VI, item 2) as well as UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/33/24.
As for the Taliban raising the cocaine trade, it was the Taliban which totally shut down the opium production in Afghanistan, and that production did not begin again until after our invasion and overthrow of the Taliban government. Such details, in this work excluded, are relevant if one wants to look beyond political agendas.
Relevant also is that Bin Laden was not released from his 2000 mandated vocal and written Islamic vow to Taliban commander Mullah Omar to remain out of international involvement, under threat of expulsion from guest status in Afghanistan, by Omar until after the US attack on the Taliban following 911.
The Taliban in Latin America? Come on. One has to wonder about some of these sources.
How does anyone, as claimed, address an audience of 30,000 in a room? And if the 30,000 is supposed to refer to al Qaeda, then it is fictitious.
If ORC (Organized Retail Crime) costs retailers nearly $30 billion / year, then how could Ohio alone reported losing $61 billion in sales taxes alone? Even if the entire $30 billion lost were in Ohio, it could not have lost more than $2.4 billion in sales tax annually, assuming 8% sales tax.
Due to my own previous studies of US and International Organized Crime I am in complete sympathy with the premise of this book, the enormous hundreds of billions of dollars extracted from world economies by organized crime, and connections to organizations, not only terrorist, but including political, judicial, law enforcement, and corporate. Hence, I looked forward to reading this book. But, unfortunately, in trying to review this book I ran aground on too many early assertions which I found questionable and misleading. Hence, I lost confidence in the book's credibility of assertions made by the author's sources.
Terrorism is real. But misrepresentations, although innocently passed on, are not helpful, for it misleads people, mis-directs their attention, and can cause them to ultimately be caught by surprise for not realizing the directions, i.e., causes, from which threats can come.
Understand this: These people have causes in which they believe with their lives, regardless of what we may think. These causes have nothing to do with whether we go to movies, party, shop at Walmart, or whatever. Their causes are focused upon what is happening in their own countries and regions. That is the intersection of their hatred and our actions.
This book should focus on the financial trail and minimize tangential assertions.
My apologies for the length of this review.
Reading Hitha Prabhakar's book "Black Market Billions" was not as much eye opening to me as it was confirmation about gut feelings I've had about wholesale, black market, gray market and counterfeit items. She follows the trail from off retail shelves to back on retail shelves and many transactions that take place in between. This is a fascinating look at ORC (Organized Retail Crime) that is written something like a thesis. Sometimes the story and facts get a little dry, but it's important to know about this less-than-honest form of retail and wholesale.
This book will make you think twice about those Tylenol tablets you buy in bulk on eBay (at a price that seems just a little too good to be true). ORC appears to be a lot more pervasive than most of us seem to realize - especially in this economy when we are all trying to pinch pennies. Be it from eBay, Craigslist, Flea Markets or websites such as Alibaba and other Internet fronts ... we need to be vigilant about what we buy and where we buy it from.
A fascinating and eye-opening read into the underworld of ORC.
Some of the examples of things covered in this book:
- Counterfeits luxury goods sold in USA (e.g. New York city etc), the internet, and also the rest of the world.
- OTC medicine stolen from CVS/Walgreen/Walmart and being "sold" back to the retailer through return process (or sold in the internet)
- Many of these thefts and robberies involve inside person
- These thefts are widespread (most retailer have created their own loss prevention task force to deal with this relatively widespread issue)
- The proceed of these activities are often used to fund global terrorism and other criminal activities
In conclusion, obviously, we don't want to be involved with organized retail crime (by buying these counterfeit or stolen products), but it is not as simple as many people likes to score a deal or aspire to own luxury brand above their reach. While it's hard to guarantee 100% that we aren't dealing with ORC when we buy stuff, you can remember some simple rules to minimize the chance of buying stolen and counterfeit goods such as:
1. Stick with well-known/reputable retailer
2. If it (the price) is too good to be true, it probably is (eventhough it's also sometime true that someone's junk is somebody else's treasure, so use your judgment)
The case is made with a series of stories, each introducing a link in the chain. A lot more evidence could be provided to make the case against specific individuals, but that is not the purpose of the book. It is a wake-up call to those who haven't been following the news, haven't been reading the analysts whose work is increasingly available on the web, and who only know what they hear from talking heads on TV and their friends at the hairdresser's or the sports bar. In other words, for most of us.
This book should make people think twice about black-market knockoffs. Harder questions include the marketing and social attitudes that create giant designer names, and tax policies which create black markets in other goods. The questions deserve attention, but this is not really the place to do the topics justice.
Prabhakar became interested in the problem of ORC when she was offered a Givenchy designer bag from a friend who had 'connections' in the business. With a little research she realized that insiders who work for designer firms or high-end department stores had privileged access to inventory and are able to siphon out high-end merchandise and sell it at a discount for profit. What she wasn't prepared for was finding out that this was only the tip of the iceberg. Retail piracy is big business that generates millions of dollars of income. It may have less bang for the buck than drug trafficking, but it is taken far less seriously by law enforcement. This makes ORC a less risky crime, where operatives might incur fines or very short prison sentences but still enable larger organizations to rake in major profits.
The book is divided into three major sections. Section one looks at the larger scope of the crimes. How ORC deprives retailers and manufacturers of profits and robs governments of taxes. In part two, Prabhakar follows the money, tracing the profits of ORC to various gangs, terror organizations, illegal arms dealers, and drug traffickers worldwide. Part three looks at possible solutions to the problems.
In general Prabhakar writes an interesting account of underworld economics. She connects the dots between the profits and the funding of terrorism and even briefly looks into bizarre alliances between street gangs, such as MS-13 (a street gang) with al Qaeda. Perhaps the most interesting part of the book was a brief review of major companies such as R.J. Reynolds and Sony that tried to gain an edge in market share by using illegal traffickers as part of their product distribution pipeline. She also brings out some interesting information regarding the role of gift cards/temporary debit cards in the illegal movement of money from country to country.
Although Prabhakar gives a fine overview of the subject, her emphasis is more on breadth than on depth. I would have wanted a little more detail on exactly how hawalas (underground banking systems based on trust where money can be made available internationally without actually moving it) are able to move and launder money and how the money then ends up in legitimate banks. Part three--which talks about solutions to the problem--was the shortest section of the book. I thought that this was a bit of a pity. I really wanted to know more about the ways to stem ORC and more about the steps that our government should be taking to stop ORC.
Nevertheless, Prabhakar sheds light on a topic that isn't all that well known and vividly connects what seems like petty crime to the funding of terrorism. There is more than enough to learn from this book and it makes for a compelling and interesting read.