Note: We’re starting a new series of “confessions” where we ask certain professionals a quick set of questions and keep their responses anonymous so that they can tell the complete truth. If you’d like to participate, please email email@example.com. We promise to keep you anonymous.
Have you ever shoplifted? A friend of mine once stole construction paper from her church. A coworker swiped some jolly ranchers. An old roommate even “forgot” to scan everything in the Ikea self-checkout line.
Large stores invest heavily in “loss prevention” aka retail security guards who are waiting to bust anyone stealing. I talked to a retail security guard about shoplifting behaviors, weird stolen items and busting little kids. Here are his confessions.
What behaviors do you look for when searching for shoplifters?
I look for nervousness: Are they fidgety? Moving clothes from one area to another? I really try to key into eye movement as well. Less experienced shoplifters will have their head on a swivel as they do it, whereas professionals will actually stare you down as they do it.
What’s the sneakiest way people have attempted to steal merchandise?
A group came in and selected a suitcase and took it straight into the fitting room. Two people went out and grabbed armfuls of merchandise and took it into the fitting room. Then they would come back out and grab more. The person in the fitting room took everything off the hangars and stuffed the suitcase and then attempted to roll it out.
What’s the most common thing people try to steal?
I’ve learned that people will steal whatever can and get away with. Some of the most common items I’ve seen boosted (stolen by a professional shoplifter) are frames for glasses being sold on letgo with the tag still on it. Usually if a price tag is on it then it’s been stolen.
What’s the largest bust you’ve ever made?
An employee carrying merchandise out to their car throughout their last shift resulting in almost $5,000.
Is merchandise stolen every day?
Oh yeah. When there are a couple thousand people coming into a store each day, someone is bound to do it. Professional shoplifters don’t come in every day, they typically quickly hit multiple stores in a couple of days.
What’s the weirdest thing someone has tried to steal?
Hangers. They just came in and grabbed a bunch of plastic hangers and ran out.
That’s… weird. Who’s the oldest person you’ve caught stealing? The youngest?
The oldest was an 89-year-old woman. The youngest was a 5-year-old boy. He didn’t get prosecuted, but he did get a ban.
When I was in middle school I stole a $6 bracelet from JCPenney’s. Would you have busted me?
Probably not. With an item at such a low price point the risk is too great. Now if you were to wear it out, that’s a different story. But still, probably not.
Have you ever thought someone was stealing when they weren’t?
Absolutely! We are human and make mistakes. If I’m not 100% sure then I let it go. The risk of being wrong is you can be fired because you’re putting the company in the position of possibly being sued.
Have you ever felt bad for someone and just let them slide?
Sometimes I think about it. There are instances where you can tell that the person is in need of an item. At the same time, I have a responsibility to do my job. As long as it makes business sense I’ll proceed.
What would you say is the easiest thing to steal? The most difficult?
The easiest thing to steal is anything you can put in your pocket without anyone noticing (like jewelry). The hardest things are large items or items with a sensor. Sensors can be taken off easily, but people usually leave a trace of something.
Have you ever shoplifted?
When I was six I stole a map from a gas station. My grandmother made me go back in and return it.