Studying shoplifting as a security guard

Virgin101

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I've started working as a retail security guard in a toy store few month back, and have become interested in the methods used by thieves in order to for me become as good as I possibly can be at the job. It's sort of like a game in a way! But I haven't stumbled upon much in depth content about this on the net so I'd like to hear your experiences of witnessing people steal, or even what you would do if you were a thief.

The first important thing for me was being able to tell the messers from the thieves. Messers are annoying because although I'm nearly certain they won't steal anything, but yet it would be irresponsible of me not to keep an eye on them. The worst they normally do is leave a few scooters lying about the store. If they were really going to seal something, they wouldn't dare draw that attention on themselves.

You can't literally watch everyone, so I try to rule people in or out of being worth watching with the following criteria:
  1. Do they have shopping bags with them (having come from other stores) that they could slip stuff into?
  2. Do they have empty bags with them? And if so, are they folded & held under their arms, or are they being carried as if there's something already in them?
  3. Do they have backpacks on them?
  4. Given that it's a toy store, lone adults (or two adults without kids) are possibly going to be considered more suspicious.
  5. What part of the store, is the item that they're carrying, from? In our store we have checkouts in two separate sections, so it might be unusual for someone to be seen in one section carrying an (unpaid for) item from the other section. And if such an item is expensive and that person didn't bother to ask staff questions about it before taking it off the shelf, then that's a red flag.
Then there's the question of "can you consider customers to be less likely to steal if you've seen them asking staff for assistance? I don't really know yet. I think you could argue it both ways. In theory a clever thief could try to make me dismiss them from being considered so, by making a point of walking right past me (smiling and saying 'thanks') while holding the stolen item in their hands as they leave the store. That would be hard to take!

Another thing that can happen is that the thief might realise that I'm on to them so they abort their plan, and get a friend (who I won't recognise) to come back later and steal the item instead. This is something that I wouldn't have considered until it happened to me. When I first started out the job, I considered every incident to be separate from others, and once I'd written the incident report I assumed that that was the end of the matter. For example, one evening I felt good about myself as I'd prevented a man from stealing a buggy - but he just returned first thing the next morning and stole it before I arrived at the store. It was only then that management considered putting that item up higher on the shelf from then on! I now consider measures like this myself.

I think my greatest achievement was probably one day when I was able to realise that a person was baiting me. This person mis-directed me so that her friend could steal something. I suspected she meant to distract me because she kept looking at me. Thieves may act strange in store, but (in my experience) they never make eye contact while acting scared of you... they'll do one or the other. So I checked the cameras over both exits during the time that I was distracted, and low and behold, I saw someone friend walk out with a tricycle. And having backtracked further on the cameras I saw that these two people both entered the store together! I shared their images an the other store security guard ended up spotting them in store one moth later, and called the police!

Another important lesson for me was knowing when to leave something alone. Now, once I'm 90% sure that a person didn't steal something, I won't investigate any further. I wasn't able to do that before. I'd go looking through other cameras to see where somebody went and so on, and it's too much time to be in the camera room.

But catching people is the only thing that makes the job fun. So sometimes I get annoyed when, after all my hard concentrating, there aren't any thieves. And often it's when I go on break that somebody will come to me to say that a robbery is occurring! I guess that makes sense that it would happen when I'm gone, as I was told by some that I was there merely as a visable deterrent. But unfortunately my training has taught me nothing other than to not accuse anyone unless I'm 100 % sure they've stolen. The phrase in the industry is "if in doubt, let them out". But the thing is that you're never going to be 100 % sure, so if I took that literally I'd never get to accuse anyone!

In my country the laws are very much on the side of the thief/customer. So in order to be 100 % sure you need to have everything on the ASCONE model. So that means you need to see thief Approach the item, Select it, Conceal it, Observe them the whole time, see them Not pay, and then Exit the store. So if you were to take all that literally it would mean that you could not accuse a thief of anything if you didn't see them approach the item, but witnessed everything else on this model. Ridiculous right? And in order to be able to observe them for the whole duration of the theft, this might mean that the guard would need to be following them around the store for about 5 minutes. So as if the thief is not going to notice that they're being followed. I'm also not allowed to accept third party information from other staff about thefts as such info could be incorrect. But I think it would mostly be okay to confirm that someone didn't pay for something with the till staff if I had already spotted that person myself beforehand.

I know there are shoplifters out there who don't look suspicious, and they're the ones who are next to impossible to catch. But it's not worth the energy to scrutinise everyone in the same way. I would love to be able to catch someone who does not fit the culprit image of a shoplifter. That would be satisfying!
 
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Ree

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In my country the laws are very much on the side of the thief/customer.
which country is this?
also on an average week how many shoplifters d you catch?,ive never really thought that shoplifting was a common thing
 

Chase

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@Virgin101,

Some interesting tales and takeaways here.

You might want to check out the Gas Station Encounters channel on YouTube (here). They have a ton of well-recorded thief videos.

Like this guy stealing five sandwiches:


Someone pulling the item return scam (I dealt with this when I worked retail in high school):


The quick change scam:


A few others in their "cashier class" series:


Here's one with Hector's evil twin:


Lots of good stuff in these if you want to get better at recognizing suspicious behaviors and various scams.

Chase
 

Velasco

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he just returned first thing the next morning and stole it before I arrived at the store.
often it's when I go on break that somebody will come to me to say that a robbery is occurring.
And having backtracked further on the cameras I saw that these two people both entered the store together!
Based on this information, If I wanted to steal something, I'd sit at a bench working on my laptop/eating my lunch, where I can see you. Then text my partner (who is nearby), when I'd see you leaving to go on your break, to go in. Never walking in, communicating, or leaving the premise together. But I'm sure that will never happen to you :)
 

Gunwitch

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Interesting post.

Watch out for open heavy jackets (especially if its hot out) or heavy duty flanel shirts worn open.

The reason being when I use to shoplift as a teenager I would wear one and always unbutton or unzip it before I got in the store so as to not call attention doing in the store in front of the item. Then i'd just slip the item under my armpit and clamp down to hold onto it. Dating myself here but I liked "the club" car theft devices (not sure if they even make them), and heavy duty bolt cutters that I could get a quick 20 spot for some arcade games and pizza. I chose those items because they weren't locked up and were in back isles.

I always pretended to be in a hurry making a beeline to get an item also. I'm not sure most shoplifters think of it, but scurrying like i'm pressed for time and need to get back to work was a strategy I liked as I came in, then i'd buy a couple of cheap bolts or screws, checkout and rush out the door again like I was still in a hurry. Never got bothered.

In summer lots of times I would just walk in this one store that had jeans right by the door and grab a few pair and walk right back out, back then pawn shops bought Levis to export to Russia. Expensive shit on displays by the door aren't maybe your sphere of influence in the store (retailers sometimes specify placement to the supplier and it can't be helped) but you could let them know to prevent more loss.

Yeah misdirection was a common beer run tactic too as a teen. 5 or 6 of us would pair off fighting or shouting at each other in the store then couple others would grab 4 cases of beer and just walk out. I see it all the time or what i'm thinking it is (maybe people have just gone crazy) in stores where someones going Jerry Springer on the security guard or cashier, always makes me think misdirection.


Gun
 

Gunwitch

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which country is this?
also on an average week how many shoplifters d you catch?,ive never really thought that shoplifting was a common thing
In North Vegas you think the sensor on door is broken because everyone who goes through it it goes off. Then you take a cart with 50 items through and you paid and it doesn't go off o_O

Seen one old man go through once and he went "HAHAHA Ive been rippin this store off for years and I LOVE IT!" like angrily grinning in glee like a horror character in a slasher movie or something.

Seen a guy walk IN and the alarm went off another time while I was waiting for my uber, me and the security guard just grinned at each other like "wow".

Gun
 

Virgin101

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which country is this?
also on an average week how many shoplifters d you catch?,ive never really thought that shoplifting was a common thing
Ireland. Between spotting, catching, and deterring shoplifters, I'd say there's 3 instances for every 5 days I work. It mightn't sound like a lot, but one of these thefts was worth €820. And if I hadn't spotted an empty spot on the shelf where a mercedes ride-on car had been taken (just one of the stolen items), they wouldn't have been spotted at all! If they were clever enough, they'd have filled up the empty space with box behind it. The police knew the couple in question, and they were busted for stealing in a furniture store later that same day!

I don't know if I'd consider it that common either, but then again there are probably an average of 60-70 customers inside the store at any given point in time. And with the store being open for an average of 9-10 hours a day, there's got to be some shoplifters. Since the store has re-opened after the lock down, there hasn't been any where near as many incidents. People have to queue up and go past the security guard to get in. Perhaps your average thief couldn't be bothered queuing.
 

Virgin101

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Watch out for open heavy jackets (especially if its hot out) or heavy duty flanel shirts worn open.
I'm glad I read that! And being able to spot if the jacket is then worn closed when leaving the store.

And I forgot to mention hats. Hats mightn't seem suspicious at all, but they can make it harder to identify someone when going back on the cameras. Once when I was occupied by accompanying a manager doing a cash lift, and I noticed out of the corner of my eye an oldish lady (with a hat) holder two scooters. Since anyone holding more than one scooter (€100 each) is worth being kept an eye on, I said I'd follow up on it once I'd finished with the manager. She was involved in a theft with others (daughters I think), but unfortunately I deemed her as low priority when I saw her.
Yeah misdirection was a common beer run tactic too as a teen. 5 or 6 of us would pair off fighting or shouting at each other in the store then couple others would grab 4 cases of beer and just walk out.
You were a bad one, weren't you! And to think you're a staff member!

It would probably be scary to think about the total amount of money that all your stealing added up to!
 
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Virgin101

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@Virgin101,

Some interesting tales and takeaways here.

You might want to check out the Gas Station Encounters channel on YouTube (here). They have a ton of well-recorded thief videos.

Like this guy stealing five sandwiches:


Someone pulling the item return scam (I dealt with this when I worked retail in high school):


The quick change scam:


A few others in their "cashier class" series:


Here's one with Hector's evil twin:


Lots of good stuff in these if you want to get better at recognizing suspicious behaviors and various scams.

Chase
Nice one

This one was somewhat interesting too. If anyone is wondering what a shoplifter looks like, looking at the people in the first few seconds of this video will give you a fair good idea.

 

Gunwitch

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It would probably be scary to think about the total amount of money that all your stealing added up to!
Karmas a bitch though comes to that. Once seen a torrent of my old "Way of Gun" product with 77 thousand downloads, at 79.95 that's about 6 million dollars! Not that they would have all purchased it or anything if they couldn't steal it. The math is a WTF though.

Since then I learned on product launch to preload the torrents with fakes/dead hum mp3s/old podcasts, of whatever the title of the product is going to be. Those multiply (via each others listings) over the weeks before my launch, and it makes the casual file sharer and/or fan have more difficulty getting it for free. Increases sales of impatient super fans, and hell with the looky loos, I figure they never woulda bought it anyway.


Gun
 

Ree

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Seen one old man go through once and he went "HAHAHA Ive been rippin this store off for years and I LOVE IT!" like angrily grinning in glee like a horror character in a slasher movie or something.
very hilarious stuff,
where I live the rule for shoplifting is you are forced to pay ten times the worth of the item,
i am not sure of the legality of this,but most supermarkets here have cops on a payroll,and they will basically just throw you in the slammer until your folks raise that money,
very interesting that old people also steal,lol,i always assumed its only young people who steal,i figured that because they dont own a lot of things themselves they cant relate to the business owners
 
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