Shoplifting Principles to Remember PDF Print E-mail

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Shoplifting Principles to Remember   by Victor Sellers

Whether you are a store manager, assistant manager or a plain clothes store detective you’ll want to remember the following shoplifter principles as you decide to engage the thieves in the battle against retail theft.

# 1 – The “Food on a Plate Principle”

I love back yard BBQ’s. The smell of the food while it’s cooking on the grill is mouth watering. The problem is, bugs like the smell of cooked meat too. Or potato salad, or whatever you decide to bring out to, and put on the picnic table. I especially don’t like flies or bees or anything with wings landing on my food. What invariably happens when you put an open plate of food on an outside table? You invite every insect in the surrounding neighborhood to join you, and the chances are about 100% something is going to land on your significant other’s special dish. The same goes for your high dollar merchandise in your store. Just as you wouldn’t put a plate of food on that table uncovered, you shouldn’t put expensive merchandise out on display unprotected. You will invite every dishonest person who walks past to help themselves to the banquet you have set before them. Merchandise that is prone to high-theft, must be presented as a “false opportunity” to any would be thieves. In other words, it may not be covered or locked up, but someone is keeping an eye on it. Also, location is key when talking about opportunity. Keep unprotected items away from the front door or exit doors. Let’s not make this easy for them. Most “Grab and Run” thefts occur with unprotected merchandise placed too close to an exit door.

# 2 – The “Flea on a Dog Principle”

If you have a pet, whether it’s a cat or dog, you probably have had to deal with the problem of fleas at one time or another. Unless you give the animal a flea bath, the only way to ensure getting rid of them is to literally pick off the fleas, one at a time. And if you try to do that, you will probably never get them all. In several ways, the fleas on your dog are like shoplifters in your store. Those fleas are a real pain and can suck the blood right out of your pet. Similarly, shoplifters are also a very real pain and can suck the profits right out of your business.  Unfortunately, you can’t give your store a “flea bath”. The only way to get rid of shoplifters is to pick them off one at a time. And like fleas, you’ll never get them all because as soon as you think you’ve eradicated the problem, new ones pop up to take their place. But, if you don’t do anything to clean up the problem, eventually you’ll have an infestation that can kill your business. So how do you get rid of the shoplifter problem? You begin by going on the offensive, catching them and prosecuting them. Then continue to be on the lookout for new ones that will inevitably come into your store.

# 3 - The “Gender Principle”

Another principle I learned early on I call “the Gender Principle.” It goes something like this: “When it comes to stealing, women are sneaky and men are simple.” Women shoplifters, more so than men, will really challenge you and test your detective skills. I can explain with two simple (but not necessarily male) examples.

1) While watching women shoplifters steal cigarettes, they would almost always put them near their purse in the basket section of the shopping cart. After selecting them from the display rack, they will put them beside the purse on either the right or left side. Then they’ll continue their shopping. Soon the cigarettes will be moved to the other side of the purse depending on whether she is right or left handed, how close to the aisle she is, etc. She may even move them to the top of the purse. From here they are easily concealed into the purse in one swift movement. But during the course of the shoplifting act, she moved them at lest once and maybe several times to make it easier for her, and harder for anyone else to see. She’s not a professional, but she has this little theft act of hers, for several packs of cigarettes, down pretty good or so she thinks. Definitely sneaky, she will make you work for an apprehension. Men on the other hand, who steal individual packs of cigarettes, don’t usually push a shopping cart. They will also select their three packs from the display, and then head back into the store. But here is where the difference starts. Almost without exception, they will conceal them within the first 30 seconds of taking them. And in most cases, they conceal them in the most widely used concealment spot for men…they put them down the front of their pants! They’ll stop, look back to make sure no one is watching, and shove them down as far as they’ll go. Then they’ll continue on their merry way. So, more often than not, they really do make it easy for you. Nowadays, most cigarettes are secured or kept off the immediate sales floor. But this simple principle for men and women still holds true whether its cosmetics, jewelry, small grocery items or small tools (or even large tools as you’ll see) being stolen.

2) Another example of stupid male shoplifter syndrome (I wonder if I can get this legitimized as a medical diagnosis) was a male in his mid-20’s with a set of work overalls on. He was in the store looking at tools, specifically crescent wrenches. He finally picked out the one he wanted. It was the biggest wrench we sold. It had to be between a foot, and a foot and a half long, inside a blister pack. He must have needed this particular wrench pretty bad. And he really didn’t have a place to put it. So, you by now know where it went. Yeah, down the front of his overalls, somewhere between his waist and his knee. After I stopped him and brought him back into the store, I told him I was glad he didn’t try to run. He definitely would have injured some part of his anatomy in the process.

# 4 - The “Spread the Butter Principle”

What does spreading the butter on a piece of bread have to do with retail security? If you have toast for breakfast in the morning, you decide how much butter to put on that piece of toast. For whatever reasons, whether it’s because you are on a diet, or just personal taste, you decide whether to lay it on thick, spread it on thin or somewhere in between. If you are on a tight budget at home, and you have to make the butter last until the next grocery trip, you may have to spread the butter pretty thin. Did you get it on all four corners, or just the middle? If you put jelly on it, then it probably doesn’t matter all that much. The problem is if you are only given so much, where do you allocate it to give you the best coverage? The same approach goes with the security budget for your business. Whether it’s paying for a security system or hiring detectives to monitor your store, you only have so much money to spend, and where do you allocate it to give you the best coverage? Just like on that piece of bread, where you can only spread that butter so thin to be able to taste it, don’t spread your coverage so thin that it doesn’t have a chance to be effective. Depending on your specific business, allocate your resources to give you the best bang for your buck. All retail businesses are slightly different and will have slightly different problems. A loss prevention professional can show you how to identify and address the specific problems in your store.

# 5 - The “Opposites Principle”

Take time to study people: the final principle we’ll take a look at is called the “Opposites Principle”. What that means is…An ordinary customer might look and even act like a shoplifter, but a shoplifter will not look and act like a customer. They will try to at first, but they always give themselves away eventually. As you begin to watch people, start noticing the following clues that may tell you that you have a potential shoplifter. In each of the following examples, the ‘Opposites Principle” applies:

a.       Sudden head turns – As you walk past an aisle and look down it, the person shopping in the aisle quickly lifts up or turns their head to notice you. If they are about to conceal something, they are looking up to see if you are watching them. This person is either nervous (you should ask yourself why?), very observant, or up to something. A normal customer will not normally act this way.

b.      Eye movements – Same as with the sudden head turns. If a person is more concerned with watching other people than the merchandise in front of them, there is probably a reason. In most cases when someone is stealing, their eyes will give them away. A normal customer is not concerned with other people. If youare trying to watch someone, the one thing you cannot do is make eye contact with a potential shoplifter. That will give you away almost every time.

c.       Look at what people are carrying - (large purses, empty bags, a coat over the arm) – This goes especially for women. If you notice someone entering your store carrying a large shoulder bag that appears flat, that is a red flag! Odds are that bag will “magically” fill up as this person shops around your store. The same goes for men (or women) walking into your store carrying their jacket or coat. If it is that warm outside, why didn’t they leave it in the car? Why carry it in? It is very easy to put something underneath that jacket or coat and walk out with it.

d.      Look at what people are wearing – The clothing people wear should match the weather outside. Now I have seen increasing amounts of people, mostly young people wearing t-shirts and shorts, even sandals on cold days. It’s the other extreme you need to worry about. If they come into your store wearing a long winter coat, and its 60 degrees and sunny out, I would probably keep an eye on that person. Also baggy clothing is another red flag, since merchandise can be concealed and not even show on the person. Again, how does a normal person dress on a warm day?

e.       Look at what is in their shopping cart – Again, notice what kinds of items people have in their shopping cart. If someone walks past you exiting the electronics department pushing a shopping cart with multiple DVD’s or CD’s, I would follow them to make sure they went directly to the checkouts. What you need to keep in mind is the “flow of merchandise”. If someone selects an item, and places it in their cart or under their arm, where do they go with it next? Do they go pay for it, or do they continue shopping? Where is that merchandise going? A shoplifter will usually take the merchandise to another location in the store to conceal it. Again, if it goes in any direction other than where the checkouts are located, I would keep an eye on it until I’m certain this person isn’t a thief.


Most of this is just good old common sense. But if you stay on the lookout for these specifics on “who’ and “what” to look for, you’ll begin to notice that not all your customers are who they appear to be. In all of the above examples of what to look for, a normal customer may exhibit some of these tendencies. It is usually a combination of several that will tell you there is a potential shoplifter in your midst.

Mars Teacher Caught Shoplifting PDF Print E-mail
Women arrested on shoplifting charges in Ross
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Two women, including an art teacher at Mars Elementary School, were arrested over the weekend on shoplifting charges in Ross.

Tiffany Weatherly, 26, of Beaver Falls, and another woman were arrested Saturday afternoon after personnel at Macy's in Ross Park Mall summoned the officers.

Ross police Lt. Brian Kohlhepp said the two women are suspected of having stolen $1,100 worth of clothing from at least two outlets at the mall, American Eagle and the Gap. The second woman was not named in a police press release.

Upon arrival of police, Ms. Weatherly identified herself as an art teacher at Mars Elementary School.

School officials did not immediately answer inquiries this morning about Ms. Weatherly's status there.

The suspects were cited by summons. Their arraignments and preliminary hearings are pending.

First published on October 27, 2010 at 12:00 am

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Retailers fighting back against shoplifters: What they call ‘shrinkage’ is just theft to most of us.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
By Angela Carter, Register Staff
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A high-profile shoplifting incident at the Milford Sears has brought to light a multibillion-dollar problem for U.S. retail operations the industry calls “shrinkage.”

Most people know it as stealing and it’s a crime that never got much attention. Until June 19.

That’s when WTNH-TV personality Desiree Fontaine was arrested for shoplifting $105 worth of merchandise at Sears in the Westfield Connecticut Post mall.

From the individual who slips a pack of gum into a pocket at the supermarket checkout line to a team of professionals who swoop into a high-end retailer and clean out thousands of dollars in merchandise, shoplifting costs U.S. retailers $33.5 billion annually, according to the National Retail Federation.

Retailers are fighting back with elaborate security systems and specially trained staff, the techniques used to catch Fontaine when she allegedly walked out of Sears without paying for her merchandise.

Area retailers are hesitant to publicize their anti-theft measures, but, according to the National Retail Federation, 89.5 percent of retailers surveyed this year report being the victim of organized retail crime, committed by sophisticated theft rings, in the past 12 months.

Ashley Hardie, manager of media relations for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said each location develops a security plan with local authorities, which could include increasing the number of surveillance cameras or improving parking lot lighting or adding police patrols.

But she would not go into detail. “When it becomes public, it defeats the purpose of having those systems in place,” Hardie said.

Peter Indorf, owner of Peter Indorf Jewelers, with locations in New Haven and Madison, said he has an Internet-based monitoring system that allows him to view either property in real time via computer, in addition to using site-based monitors.

“Everybody who walks into the store is filmed,” he said. The images are archived on a server.

The system also saved him from liability when an $18,000 ring was shipped out but didn’t make it to its destination.

“What saved my bacon on it was that the cameras recorded my daughter putting it into the box,” he said, adding that single incident saved him the lion’s share of his investment in the technology.

“We’re incredibly vigilant about store security,” he said.

Steven Sell, vice president of global marketing for Checkpoint Systems Inc., a New Jersey-based provider of computerized anti-theft systems for retailers and some banking clients, said retail theft reached $114.8 billion worldwide in 2009, with the largest annual increase occurring in North America to the tune of 8.1 percent.

That’s after 5.8 million theft incidents were stopped and nearly $6 billion in stolen merchandise was recovered. Of those caught, 85.6 percent were shoplifters and 14.4 percent were employees.

The average amount stolen or admitted by shoplifters was $225.90 globally and $436.24 in North America. The average employee theft reached an average of $1,889.02 in North America and $2,535.52 in Europe. The two regions respectively make up 40 percent and 30 percent of retail losses globally, the report said.

Checkpoint sponsors the yearly Global Retail Theft Barometer, in cooperation with the Centre for Retail Research in Nottingham, England.

The 2008 total came in lower at $104.5 billion globally.

Retailers surveyed attributed one-third of the increase in shoplifting to the economic recession, said Professor Joshua Bamfield, author of the study and director of the center.

Thieves tend to focus on small, easily concealed and expensive brand-name items that are popular and easily resold in the black market or on eBay, Sell said. Topping the list of vulnerable items are electronic games, DVDs, iPods, clothing, cosmetics, perfumes, alcohol, fresh meat, expensive foodstuffs, razor blades, mobile phones and watches.

Milford police said Fontaine left Sears with a $42 Hawaiian shirt, a necklace, two pairs of $3.99 earrings and a bottle of cologne in her bag. The items’ total value was $104.98. She was stopped by a security guard who told police he watched Fontaine enter dressing rooms — on two occasions — with items that were no longer visible when she left the fitting rooms. The price tags were allegedly found in the dressing rooms.

The morning traffic reporter and host of “Connecticut Style” is on personal leave and has not appeared on the air since the arrest. She is scheduled to appear in court July 6 and her attorney is Hugh F. Keefe of New Haven.

Sell said technology has improved retailers’ ability to prevent theft by both employees and outsiders and to solve cases. “If they can reduce theft by 15 percent, it goes right to their bottom line,” he said. “They’ve got to replace that item at full price and they have to sell seven or eight of them to make it up. We help them look at the entire supply chain.”

EAS systems, or electronic article surveillance, read tags that are attached to merchandise at the door. Stores also are using closed-circuit televisions to monitor shoppers and employees.

When it comes to high-theft items such as software, there is a popular solution known in the industry as a keeper, which is a plastic encasement with an alarm that will sound in a thief’s hands or at doorways. “It’s going to be screaming in their hands quite a long way,” Sell said.

Offenders who were voluntarily interviewed said they avoid keepers, he said.

If retailers locked everything in cases or in keepers, they probably would not sell many items. On the other hand, if all of their merchandise were laid out in an easily accessible way, a lot of items would disappear.

“Somewhere in the middle is the right equation,” Sell said.

Technology that consumers can see provides the first line of defense.

“It helps keep the honest people honest,” Sell said.

The top deterrent for high-end department stores is a large staff of sales representatives who are interacting with customers and making eye contact, he said. “That’s a turnoff for a thief. They want to walk in and not be noticed.”

Gerry Katz, owner of Gerry’s Shell Food Mart in New Haven, said he upgraded his camera system after an employee was grazed in the head by a robber’s bullet in 2007. Similar to Indorf’s system, Katz can monitor customer and employee activity at the gas station and convenience store by computer or cell phone.

The item most often stolen there, Katz said, is baby formula, followed by cigarettes. “I keep two people on at night, which is more expensive for me. Security is always an issue and you’re always putting more money into it,” he said.

The new frontier in store security, Sell said, is technology known as RFID, which uses radio frequency tags with chips in them. It transmits a message that describes the item and tracks every place it goes from shipment to warehouse to the retail floor and off to the register and out of the door.

“Retailers can’t afford it on every product but it gives them real-time evidence (of theft),” he said, adding that Checkpoint works with the retail industry in its lobbying efforts for stiffer penalties.

“Every retailer has this problem,” Sell said. “The good news is we have a lot of solutions and we’re making a dent in it.

Call Angela Carter at 203-789-5752.
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