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Operation Boiling Point takes on Organized Theft Groups

Operation Boiling Point

Our response to organized theft groups profiting from organized retail crime.

Organized Theft Groups (OTGs) are sophisticated criminal organizations that profit from illegally obtaining goods that are later sold for economic gain.

OTGs are known to profit from Organized Retail Crime (ORC), cargo theft, and other theft and fraud-related criminal activities. OTGs can be involved in a myriad of other crimes including, but not limited to narcotics trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, and even terrorism. It is important to understand that this criminal activity is Organized Crime.

Organized Retail Crime

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) defines ORC as “the association of two or more persons engaged in illegally obtaining items of value from retail establishments, through theft and/or fraud, as part of a criminal enterprise.”

According to the 2021 joint report released by the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) and the Buy Safe America Coalition, in 2019, nearly $70 billion in goods were stolen from retailers. As staggering as this number is, it doesn’t account for loss related to cargo theft nor the uptick in ORC during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ORC is not shoplifting, and these crimes are not victimless. In addition to the growing number of thefts that turn violent, consumers, local communities and businesses bear the costs of rising prices. These thefts are detrimental to both businesses, small and large alike, and the overall economy as they pose both societal and health risks to the community.

Estimates reveal ORC costs federal and state governments nearly $15 billion in lost tax revenue, not including lost sales taxes. It is estimated that the average American family will pay more than $500 annually in additional costs due to the impact of ORC. ORC is a low-risk, high-reward income stream for domestic and transnational criminal organizations that greatly impacts inter-state and international commerce and the overall economic security of the United States.

“Organized retail crime is leading to more brazen and more violent attacks in retail stores throughout the country and many of the criminal rings orchestrating these thefts are also involved in other serious criminal activity,” said HSI’s acting executive associate director Steve Francis. “Tackling this growing threat is important to the safety of store employees, customers, and communities across the country.”

What is Operation Boiling Point?

Operation Boiling Point is Homeland Security Investigations' (HSI) response to OTGs profiting from ORC, cargo theft and other theft-related crimes that threaten the economy and security of the United States. HSI’s strong partnership with private industry groups, such as the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail (CLEAR), the National Retail Federation (NRF), the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), the Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA) and others, are critical to our efforts to combat OTGs who seek to disrupt interstate and foreign commerce.

The HSI Financial Crimes Unit (FCU) leads HSI’s effort to combat OTGs by targeting domestic and transnational criminal organizations that profit from ORC, cargo theft and related crimes. HSI focused on building and furthering partnerships to advance this national program by supporting investigations, conducting outreach and coordinating with public and private sector partners. Throughout the United States and abroad, HSI has approximately 7,100 special agents and relies on task force officers from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to combat transnational criminal organizations.

OTGs at Work

Unlike shoplifting, where an individual steals food due to hunger or related incidents of simple theft, OTGs illegally profit from systematically targeting retail establishments utilizing professional thieves known as “boosters.” Often, boosters travel in crews throughout the country utilizing aliases, rental vehicles, and tools such as “booster bags” and illegally acquired security keys to steal high-value merchandise.

Most Commonly Targeted Items for ORC

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Building supplies
  • Groceries
  • Household goods
  • Electronics
  • Health & beauty supplies
  • Automobiles
  • Clothing & apparel

Although some boosters may sell the stolen goods on their own, most of the time the stolen items are being sold to a middleman known as a “fence or fencer.” The fence/fencer purchases the stolen merchandise from boosters at a fraction of the retail value and will utilize several avenues to sell the stolen goods, e.g., e-commerce websites, social media, or wholesale/trading/distribution companies. Often, the fence/fencer, attempts to make the items appear legitimately obtained. For instance, utilizing lighter fluid and heat guns, the fencing operation will remove retailer anti-theft stickers from commonly stolen goods making them appear clean and to avoid suspicions. The stolen items are then reintroduced to the supply chain by one of the methods listed above. Further, other OTGs utilize freight forwarding companies to send stolen goods overseas.

Cargo Theft

It is estimated that cargo theft accounts for $15-35 billion in loss annually. OTGs target cargo at the ports of entry, at truck stops, on freight trains, and anywhere else along the supply chain as the goods are in transit. OTGs utilize a variety of means to steal cargo including fraudulent pick-ups, phony documentation, etc. Much of the cargo that targeted is destined for retailers and/or distribution centers. Although OTGs targeting cargo are not necessarily involved in ORC, they can be linked to common fences/fencers that are purchasing the stolen goods.

Commonly stolen items include, but are not limited to:

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Electronics
  • Personal care
  • Clothing
  • Food & Beverage
  • Building Supplies
  • Alcohol/Tobacco

The OTGs targeting cargo can be found throughout the U.S. However, much of the activity is in or around major hubs within the supply chain, including:

  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Dallas, TX
  • Memphis, TN
  • Chicago, IL
  • Atlanta, GA

Other OTG Activities

OTGs are also involved in many other illicit schemes involving theft. Most recently, OTGs throughout the United States have been targeting vehicles for their catalytic converters, which contain high-value precious metals such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium. The OTGs, many of them employing or being led by gang members that are known to be violent, steal catalytic converters to sell to fences/fencers, which attempt to resell, refine, or export them for profit. This has created a worldwide supply shortage, increased demand, and has driven the prices for catalytic converters up in value. There are many OTGs involved in auto thefts, wheel thefts, and other similar crimes.

HSI Partners with Others to Combat ORC

At home and abroad, HSI embraces partnerships to strengthen its efforts to combat transnational crime, including ORC. Through various centers and task forces, HSI collaborates with law enforcement agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private industry to coordinate operations, generate leads, identify, rescue and support victims of crime, and prevent threats to the homeland. At a national level, HSI partners with many organizations representing thousands of businesses involved in the U.S. supply chain, including:

We have also established strong partnerships with many eCommerce platforms related to information-sharing and targeting OTGs selling illicit goods via their websites.

How You Can Help

  • Report suspicious activity. Members of the public can report suspicious activity, including organized retail crime, by calling the toll-free tip line at 866-347-2423, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year, or reporting it online at the HSI Tip Line.
  • Reach out. Request a briefing or additional information for your organization by contacting your local HSI community resource officer.
Last Updated: 04/22/2024
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