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Police say reports of nationwide spike in Tide thefts doesn't wash

Police and retailers are pushing back against a report claiming that theft of Tide laundry detergent is on the rise nationwide and that some cities are devising special task forces to crack down on the alleged phenomenon.

The Daily, an iPad publication, reported Monday that authorities from New York to Oregon are combating a new wave of Tide theft at popular retail stores, like CVS and Walmart. The story quickly spread virally across the Internet, and was even the subject of a segment Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America." 

While police acknowledge that name-brand household items are commonly swiped from store shelves, authorities in at least two states referenced by the publication say they have not seen a specific rise in stolen Tide detergent.

Lt. Matt Swenke of the West St. Paul Police Department in Minnesota described laundry detergent as a "needed commodity" – much like baby formula and toilet paper – that he said is often a target for shoplifters looking to profit by reselling the items to privately-owned retail stores.

He referenced one case of a man suspected of stealing $25,000 worth of Tide detergent from a Walmart in West St. Paul over a 15-month period. He said the man, identified as 53-year-old Patrick Costanzo, was seen on surveillance video stocking up his shopping cart with various items, including Tide, and walking out of the store without paying.

But, Swenke said, "We haven’t noticed anything in terms of this being a rising problem." He said of the five major retailers in the West St. Paul area, only one store – Walmart – came forward to police about thousands of dollars of missing Tide inventory believed to have been taken by Costanzo. 

"As of yet, we have not been contacted by any of our larger retail establishments," Swenke told FoxNews.com. "I don’t know any other jurisdictions in Minnesota that have had that volume."

Authorities in Kentucky also backed away from the claim that Tide theft is on the rise.

Lt. Shannon Smith of the Somerset Police Department recalled a case from 2011 in which three individuals were charged with shoplifting from Cincinnati-based Kroger stores as well as from a local Walmart. Smith says the alleged shoplifters made off with several items, including Tide detergent, and then sold them on the black market to small, privately-owned stores.

"People are stealing to resell the items to other less professional retail establishments," he said.

Smith and other law enforcement officials acknowledge that name-brand goods, like Tide, are easily converted to cash on the black market. A $20 shoplifted bottle of Tide, for instance, could be sold illegally for $10 – more than the sale of a lesser-known, generic brand.

"Tide is highly recognizable," former FBI Special Agent Brad Garrett told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Tuesday. "It's very difficult to trace and it's easily resold." 

"It’s the demand that the retail establishments are putting out there on the black market that drives this whole thing,” added Smith. “They can demand more money at the point of sale for a bottle of Tide than they can for a generic brand," he said, though he stressed that Tide theft, in particular, is no more widespread in the Somerset area than theft of other popular household items.

Retailers, meanwhile, also are denying reports of a new spike in stolen Tide products.

"We are not experiencing a 'wave' of Tide thefts," CVS/pharmacy public relations director Mike DeAngelis wrote in email to FoxNews.com.

"In a few markets, we've placed security devices on Tide bottles that will trigger an alarm if a shoplifter tries to remove it from the store without paying," DeAngelis said. "However, theft of Tide is not a new issue in the retail industry."

The Daily had no comment on the story. The Daily and FoxNews.com are both owned by News Corporation.

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