Had A Few Beers: This is an interesting article about shoplifting written by a friend that once worked at catching shoplifters at a department store.
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5 Stories about Shoplifters You Won’t Believe.
I spent a year-and-a-half working part-time in loss prevention for a retailer that will remain unnamed. This meant tediously monitoring live surveillance feeds for hours, watching shoppers interact with merchandise, and scoping out babes in low cut tops, punctuated by a few minutes of heart-pounding adrenaline rushes that could make you feel invincible … or just sick. Few rushes compare to catching a shoplifter in the act and then confronting them outside the store. It’s a thankless job. If you do your job right, nobody notices. If you screw up, it’s a black eye or worse, legal liability for your employer. But it gives you insight into a subculture we don’t spend much time acknowledging: Theft. There’s another great blog post out there that explains the rules of shoplifting which would I recommend if you want some more background info on how retail chains handle this phenomenon. Below are the most bizarre stories I encountered in my time with loss prevention.
1. They never do it out of necessity
I did my time as a loss prevention associate in a military community with a lot of brass. This meant spouses and dependents who were well taken care of and military officers with plenty of disposable income. Supposedly, not the dregs of society. More often than not, it was the lonely housewives or kids looking for a rush that we’d have to pull in and separate from stolen makeup, cheap jewelry, or other frills. They definitely were not stealing items required to sustain basic life.
2. They’ll hide things anywhere. ANYWHERE!!!
One detective I knew had to stop a woman in her mid-30s or early 40s when she took some cheap jewelry into a dressing room and came out without it. The dressing room was searched and the merchandise was nowhere to be found. He pulled her into the security office and told her she’d been observed taking the item without paying for it. She denied it up and down so he left the room to go into the surveillance room. The woman must not have bothered to think there might also be a camera in the security office with her. She reached down into her pants … deep down … fished around and pulled out the jewelry. Then, she took the jewelry off its cardboard backing, ditched the backing under the desk of the security officer and proceeded to swallow the jewelry. It was all recorded on camera, of course. My friend, the security manager, was dumbfounded. Since they hadn’t actually seen her conceal the item (it happened in the changing room, out of sight of the cameras) they would have had a tough case to prove to authorities. But now, they had her dead to rights. She didn’t see it that way. After the manager rejoined her and picked up the cardboard backing from under his desk, he let her know what she’d done was all on tape. She refused to admit any wrongdoing. It took the authorities’ threats of taking her in for an X-ray to finally get her to fess up. Afterward, the security manager took the soiled cardboard backing back to the surveillance room and flicked it into the hands of the loss prevention associate who’d first suspected the theft, saying “Nice work detective. Now catch another one.”
3. Shoplifting is a small fraction of the loss that happens every day in retail
The amount of money retail businesses hemorrhage on a daily basis is astounding. The lion’s share of it, though, comes from employee theft. Think about it: You’re on the inside, you work there day-in, day-out, you see the weaknesses, you know when you can get away with it without anyone knowing … or so you think. Another loss prevention manager I knew busted a employee-theft ring for around $22,000 in the course of a couple of months. This one was ingenious. Some kid working back in customer service figured out that if you loaded money onto a gift card, then quickly unplugged the terminal, the money stayed on the card but the transaction would be wiped out of the store’s records. It was like creating free money. Soon word spread and employees started hooking up their friends. How did they get caught? A loss prevention detective got lucky when interviewing an employee for misconduct completely unrelated. The employee rolled on his buddies. If it wasn’t for that dumb luck the store could have lost hundreds of thousands or even millions before anyone were the wiser.
4. Shoplifting is easy but it’s getting harder
They say, “You never get caught your first time.” Big stores can have hundreds of people shopping and in the security office you have maybe 10, maybe five, maybe one guy watching them all. Or maybe no one is in the security office at all. Then, you have to factor in the places where cameras can’t reach (dressing rooms or out-of-the-way areas) and the detective’s ability to use the cameras to stay ahead of the customer and get a good shot at the moment of concealment. Catching shoplifters is an art because, well … it’s hard. By the time someone is caught shoplifting, we would assume they’ve done it many times before. As a security officer you get burned a lot more times, than you get lucky. Now, though, the playing field is leveling out. Advancements in technology are getting down right scary. I once told a shoplifter we had “facial recognition software” to get him to confess to previous shopliftings that had gone undetected. He bought it and owned up to stealing on five other occasions. I thought he was a real mouth breather for believing my line of bullshit, but now I think we’re probably not far off. If I found some pilfered packaging on the sales floor, say a pack for Pokémon trading cards, I could roll back the surveillance video log and figure out when the disposed packaging was left or concealed and get a good picture of who did it. Then I could follow that person around the store and see if they made a purchase. Then, if I saw a purchase was made with a card, I could go into the sales logs and pull the credit card number. Then I could run that through a system called Fraud Watch and pull every transaction made using that card. I could use those transaction logs to go back months and look at video of every time that person shopped with us, to see if he stole anything else. From there I could build a case to turn over to the authorities — or maybe I just let him keep coming back so I could build a better case and inflate the total dollar amount recouped once he got busted. And this was back in 2009. Today, it wouldn’t surprise me if some stores are looking into facial recognition or any other kind of spooky Big Brother-type stuff in the name of “security.”
5. Have I emphasized enough that they will put things ANYWHERE?!?!?!
We’d been watching these two women for awhile. Their favorite thing to do was peel discount stickers off clearance items and stick them onto higher value clothing items. This, of course, is illegal. We in the industry called people like this “Sticker pickers.” These two were smart about it, though and they burned us a few times. We kept watching them when they came in and, as usual, they started getting bolder … and sloppy. Sloppy enough for one of them to try to conceal some cheap jewelry right in sight of the cameras. So we pull her and her friend into the security office, let them know they’ve been observed taking merchandise without paying, and leave them alone after they deny any wrongdoing. Not a minute after we left the security office to go to the surveillance room where we could watch them on a live feed, the one with the jewelry takes the missing item out of her pocket and down it goes into her pants. Again, we’ve got her on camera, and again the authorities have to threaten to go in after it, but this time the perpetrator decides to call their bluff. A police officer had to take her into the bathroom and step-by-step, instruct her to open up, so the police officer could go after the item with a gloved hand. As the female officer recounted to us after the thieves had been taken away, that was easily the most disgusting call she’d ever been on and yeah, the jewelry thief had been menstruating.