UK policing chief for retail crime has called on Meta to force users of its Facebook Marketplace platform to verify their identity and location to thwart an epidemic of shoplifting.
Chief Superintendent Alex Goss, head of retail crime at the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), said that Meta and other online platforms needed to do more to “think about criminality” when designing their platforms.
Facebook Marketplace has been blamed for helping to facilitate the record rates of shoplifting in the UK as it is one of very few online shops that does not require sellers to verify their identity or location.
Users only require a Facebook profile to start selling goods, with no requirement to prove who they are, which police believe is being exploited by people creating accounts under false names in order to protect themselves from prosecution.
Users do not need to set their home location because the marketplace is designed for users to arrange a location themselves in order to exchange goods and money. They simply state the location where they want to sell the items.
Individuals are sent by organised crime gangs to steal higher value items from stores such as steaks, bottles of alcohol, cosmetics and toiletries en masse that are then sold on to pubs, smaller corner shops, car boot sales and at marketplaces offline and online such as Facebook Marketplace.
“Anything where you don’t have to verify your identity will be a risk to criminality. Where you don’t have to verify your identification is always going to be open to exploitation. If we can get to that position with Meta [to enforce verification of ID] that would be really good.
“There’s always more to do with online platforms because they’re so easy to use, to create false accounts and Meta is just one of them. Anything that helps in terms of additional security to identify people is always going to be helpful,” The Times quoted Goss as saying.
He urged Meta and other social media companies to work more closely with the police and law enforcement agencies to tackle shoplifting.
“I know it’s a huge challenge, and social media is also a fantastic tool for lots of things. But it gets used by criminals so I would certainly encourage firms to think about criminality when they’re creating databases and working with police and enforcement agencies.”
Katy Bourne, head of retail crime for the Association of Police of Crime Commissioners, has also called on Meta to introduce mandatory verification of identity before users are allowed to sell goods.
“I think we do need to look at some of the requirements for those sellers online and some of the verification could do with tightening up.”