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Is Bay Area Flea Market Merchandise A Real Steal?

OAKLAND (CBS 5) -- A popular Bay Area flea market offers rock-bottom prices for name brands. But where does the merchandise come from?

On a recent Sunday morning, CBS 5 went to the flea market at Laney College in Oakland. At 7 a.m., shoppers were out in force, looking for deals. The flea market had a bit of everything, from designer jeans to computers. There were also bikes, perfumes, even lingerie for sale.

While some items may be knockoffs, others looked real such as The North Face jackets we saw. The price tag was still on them. We saw one with a price tag for $230, but at the flea market they were selling for $130.

Everything is on sale. And according to the vendors, a lot of it is authentic. "Everything is real" one vendor said. "I wouldn't kid you," said another.

CBS 5 found evidence that some of it may be coming from a retail store, such as Victoria's Secret underwear with store security hardware still on it.

The boldness of what CBS 5 saw at the Laney flea market in Oakland surprised even the police.

"It is very bold. It's disturbing," said Officer Albie Esparza of the San Francisco Police Department after watching our hidden camera video.

Esparza said a lot of the merchandise may be stolen from retail stores. Several upscale boutiques in downtown San Francisco have recently been hit by a gang of teens known on the street as "The Rainbow Girls."

In Palo Alto, another gang of shoplifters recently pulled off an $11,000 bra heist at a Victoria's Secret store.

"It's a very organized network. You have the people that commit the crime, the people that sell them to these middlemen...who sell them to the people who are going to be selling them on the street," Esparza explained.

CBS 5 wanted to know what the sellers at the flea market had to say about it. Reporter Ken Bastida first went to the stall with the Victoria's Secret merchandise.

Ken: "Hi, hi how are you?"

Girl: "Oh no!"

Ken: "My name is Ken Bastida. I am with CBS 5 here in San Francisco. I wanted to ask you about some of the merchandise you have out on the table here."

Girl: "No, I'm sorry, no. You can't just take video of me."

Ken: "I can because this is a public place. I just want to ask you about some of the stuff that you are selling. Can you answer where this stuff came from?"

Girl: "No, cause I didn't buy it!"

Ken: "But you are selling it."

Girl: "So, I work here."

Ken: "Do you know it's a felony to sell stolen stuff?"

Woman: "All I know is that I work here."

Nobody wanted to talk, and even forcefully tried to push our cameraman away. Then Bastida went to the stall with The North Face jackets.

Ken: "How are you doing? Good to see you."

Man: "Don't take videotape."

Ken: "I just want to ask you about some of your equipment here."

Man: "I cannot answer nothing."

Ken: "So all this stuff that you have hanging here in your tent it looks brand new to me. Are they new jackets?"

Man: "Yes."

Ken: "OK can you tell me where you got them?"

Man: "No."

Ken: "If I were to bring the police in here it would be ok with you?"

Man: "I got the permit, I got the permit."

The man is right. Sellers have to get permits through the State Board of Equalization. But the form does not ask for anything but a name and number.

"The State Board is there just to collect sales taxes," said Naser Sari. He manages the Laney Flea Market for a company called Northern California Swap Meets. "If someone has North Face jackets, we don't ask them where they got them from," he said.

And where does he think they come from? "Ah, Storage containers," he said.

Back at the flea market, after CBS 5's visit, the man selling The North Face jackets disappeared, his booth completely cleared out.

One might wonder what Oakland police are doing about potentially stolen merchandise at the flea market. CBS 5 does not know, because they never returned repeated calls for comment.

Retailers estimate shoplifters and dishonest employees stole more than $6 billion of merchandise last year. Consumers end up paying, with higher prices.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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