In 2013, thieves would steal big bottles of Tide laundry detergent from supermarkets, grocery stores, bodegas and retailers across the country. Police were left baffled, who would have to do this much laundry?

It turned out bandits were exchanging the detergent for drugs. A 150-ounce bottle was going for either $5 in cash or $10 worth of weed or cocaine.

Stores lost $10,000 to $15,000 a month from people shoplifting Tide right off the shelves. Law enforcement refers to it as “organized retail crime” or ORC. The FBI estimated ORC cost retailers $30 billion annually.

In Prince George’s County, Maryland, the ORC raided homes near the border of Prince George’s County and Washington D.C. Authorities found Tide bottles, drugs and upwards of $20,000 in stolen property.

Prince George’s County officers monitored security footage that revealed the Tide theft ring was actually an organized crew of more than two dozen thieves. It sounds like a deleted scene from the Fast and Furious franchise. The crew even had the presence of mind to work in teams and timing their thievery to clerks’ shift changes.

Think about it; Tide is the nation’s most popular and recognizable laundry detergent brand. A 150-ounce bottle sells for $20 at retail price. It costs more than most detergents. “There is no serial numbers, and it’s impossible to track,” Detective Larry Patterson of the Somerset, Kentucky, Police Department. Authorities said they had seen a huge spike in Tide theft, which led to the investigation. “It’s the item to steal,” added Detective Patterson.

It’s a lot of legwork, but it’s simple math. You can’t buy drugs with a state-subsidized cash card, but you can buy Tide. Criminals would steal or use their government assistance to purchase laundry detergent. Then turn around and sell the Tide to the drug dealer for $10 worth of drugs. The drug dealer then turns around and sells the detergent back to unwitting bodegas or markets for cheaper, and they each increase their margins.

Wonder if kids got a hold of the parent’s Tide stash and brought it to school? Could have inspired the Tide pod challenge, never know… “I’ll trade ya my Arizona Iced Tea for a sip of your Tide juice?”

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