-Security and preventing retail theft by behavior tracking and preventative measures


May 26, 2020

With hundreds of thousands of retail locations closed completely or at least operating under reduced hours since the outbreak of COVID 19, the threat of retail theft is significant. The pandemic has created a sense of uncertainty nationally as well as financial concerns caused by a spike in unemployment and spending slashes across both the populous and businesses. Uncertainty has a tendency to lead to panic, which can lead to risky survival-oriented behavior such as looting and other criminal acts.

1 in 11 people are shoplifters, approximately 27 million Americans – and over 10 Million of these criminals have been caught in the past five years. In normal times (pre coronavirus), a shoplifter is caught every 48 minutes, while only turning over to the police 50% of the time. Of all of these shoplifters, only 3% are considered to be professionals. Of the original 1 in 11, 57% of adults say it is hard for them to stop shoplifting, regardless of whether or not they are caught. Given the size and characteristics of these numbers, it is safe to say the average shoplifter is the average American. In uncertain fearful times, this can be a scary fact.

According to data from the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, there was a significant increase in theft and Organized Retail Crime (or “ORC”) activity in the aftermath of both the September 11th attacks and the economic crash of 2008, which serve as our country’s two most recent examples of swift economic downturn and financial turmoil. It remains to be seen whether the current climate will lead to the same turmoil. There is much debate about this. Before the recent lockdowns, the world’s economy was healthy for the most part, and our country was stronger than ever, headlined by a 50 – Year low unemployment rate of 3.5%. Additionally, Americans had seemed to learn their lesson from the last Great Recession, where household savings was around 3.5%, less than half of the pre – 2020 pandemic numbers of 7.6%. We know that saving cannot last us forever, and neither can the current government bailout programs. The longer the pandemic drags on, the riskier and more realistic the possibility of looting, crime, and other fear-based actions will become. Either way, we must be prepared.

Much of the risk mitigation can be tackled through organization and communication with local law enforcement. As a result of the recent pandemic, many of the day to day activity requirements of law enforcement has changed. For example – with fewer cars on the road, highway patrol is less significant. This schedule clearing has allowed the local official to focus on more preventative measures to assist closed businesses, in particular, retailers who are often completely closed. Major cities like Chicago, Austin Tex. and New York have made this an emphasis. Other cities such as Philadelphia have been criticized for raising the possibility of theft by informing the general populous lower-level crimes will not be pursued or charged during the pandemic. Other smaller cities, suburban communities, and rural areas have varying policies. 

In our submarket of Tampa, Florida, temporary policies such as staying at home orders, curfews, and other orders have been effective in holding off the virus and crime. These efforts have actually resulted in a short term large drop in crime rates. Hillsborough County, for example, has seen overall crime down 17%, murders down 15%, and burglaries down 34.5%. Despite the positive portrayal of these statistics, other areas of crime are up, such as domestic disputes, assaults, and thefts. The fear many have is that the continued economic downturn paired with the populous panic action will turn these statistics upside down. Fortunately, technology and the right security systems can keep these criminal acts away.

Security cameras have proven to be a consistently effective item. The simple act of installing cameras causes positive change. Crooked workers may quit, and thieves flee to the next unguarded location once they are aware of the risk of putting their faces on camera. Theft can often be prevented entirely through a review on individuals searching the location, quick, immediate camera review access to catch in – progress thieves, and pairing with other supplemental security support options to stop crimes that are occurring. Beneficial supplemental items such as phone application use, web access, connection to police systems, or other options will greatly assist. At the very least, your insurance companies will be able to recognize thieves and verify the occurrence of theft, permitting the necessary repair reimbursements to keep many businesses from folding without its help.

Additional benefits go beyond theft. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been saved through the installation of security cameras. Cameras do not lie and clear up ambiguity to stories or events. Injuries, or claimed injuries, can be clarified, among other events. When stores reopen, these same cameras can prevent payroll fraud. According to Forbes, payroll fraud happens in 27% of businesses and twice as often in small organizations, which make up a majority of the retail market. Most payroll fraud incidents are also damaging, with the average instance lasting 36 months. The key is catching the fraud and minimizing its effects before they drag out. The tape is clear when it comes to items such as employee hour reporting. Generally, the presence of cameras will lead to lower policy rates, saving thousands of fees annually.

Other ways to prevent theft include predictive analytic tools. While only a small percentage of shoplifters are professionals, a majority of incidents result from professional work. Professionals range from pairs of criminals up through larger networking or even crime rings. These professionals are skilled at blending in, avoiding attention, and sneaking in and out of thieves. Through data analysis, loss prevention tactics can be implemented to stop further action. Risk analyses will help rank and categorize incidents, areas, and other items to determine where and what to spend the budget on to ensure an efficient, affordable solution. Other analyses will vary by the incident; however, the tool options are in the hundreds.

An example being fraud ring analysis. Fraud ring analysis identifies crime rings by identifying higher-risk customers, mapping out these clusters, and analyzing the behavior of these clusters through the use of computer algorithms. The connecting of shoppers with known criminals can assist law enforcement in working with business owners to keep their locations safe.