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Rash of Tide detergent thefts puzzle law enforcement agencies nationwide

Tide laundry detergent CBS Boston

(CBS) - Authorities say that thieves across America are stealing Tide laundry detergent and re-selling it on the black market. Investigators reportedly suspect the "liquid gold" is being stolen because of its high retail price, and that thieves may be using the money they earn for drugs.

According to KTLA in Los Angeles, police say that last month at a store in Mission Viejo, a man loaded up his cart in a store with nine bottles of Tide and walked out without paying. CBS Boston  also reports that stores in several Massachusetts towns have been hit by thieves filling up their carts and making off with as much Tide as they can.

Additionally, according to CBS Minnesota, a St. Paul man was charged with stealing $6,000 worth of Tide detergent  in February.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices for household cleaning products spiked 4.8 percent in 2009, which is the highest percentage increase since 2002.  MSNBC reports prices have only trailed off a small amount since.

Higher prices can cause consumers to buy products illegally, creating a market for stolen goods, Michael Garry, technology and operations editor for Supermarket News told a local NBC affiliate.

Garry said that in the last five years, organized retail crime rings have been on the rise in the supermarket industry. They steal from mass merchants and resell the goods at big discounts: "It's a billion dollar black market out there."

Priced anywhere from $10 to $20, the Tide detergent bottles are unique in that they have no serial numbers, which makes them virtually impossible to track.

"One theory is that the suspects are selling it on the street for $5, $10 and using that money to go buy drugs," Orange County sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said.

Authorities say it turns out the Mission Viejo Tide thief was on crystal meth when he stole the detergent, reports the Star Ledger.

MSNBC reports that national retailers have begun to take extra precautions and attach security devices to Tide bottles, in an effort to keep "Tide tied down." A spokesperson for Ralphs Grocery Stores, a California supermarket chain, said the thieves are stealing Red Bull and shampoo as well.

Detective Robert Levinson of Boston says of the thieves, "They're in and out in two minutes and they know exactly what they want to take."

More on Crimesider:

February 14, 2012 - Minnesota man arrested for stealing $6,000 worth of laundry detergent

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