Isle stores beef up
security to stop
holiday shoplifting

Some stores employ undercover shoppers
to keep an eye on things

By Nelson Daranciang

The day after Thanksgiving brings retailers a welcome rush of traffic into their stores on what is traditionally the first and busiest day of the holiday shopping season.

That day also brings an increase in shoplifting.

"It gets a little busier, kids are out of school, there are more people in the stores," said Bernie Ching, Sears Ala Moana asset protection manager.

Of Sears losses, Ching said about 20 percent is attributed to shoplifting, about 67 percent to employee theft and the rest to errors in paperwork and shipping. Ching said shoplifting and employee theft figures are in line with national averages.

Unless retailers are able to track down every item stolen, those figures are "guesstimates," said Bob Flating, former head of security at Liberty House security loss prevention office.

He said retailers in one survey indicated they believe 31 percent of their losses are due to shoplifting and 36 percent due to employee theft. Administrative error and vendor fraud account for the rest.

Experts say the incidents of shoplifting increase during the holiday shopping season although the percentage of shoplifting to purchases stays about the same.

Shopping centers beef up security during the holiday shopping season. Ala Moana Center will also be handing out crime prevention brochures to its tenants and to the public to help combat shoplifting, said Harold Kawasaki, director of safety and security for General Growth LP, the company that owns Ala Moana Center.

"These are little things that we hope will help," Kawasaki said.

Retailers take care of their own problems with theft by beefing up their own security and employing "mystery shoppers" to pose as customers. Flating said some of the bigger stores hire their own undercover shoppers to keep an eye on potential shoplifters and store employees. Others turn to security services companies.

Flating is the loss prevention and security services manager of Safeguard Services. He provides retailers advice on staff training and customer service evaluations and helps them identify sources of losses including shoplifting and employee theft.

Safeguard Services hires about a dozen undercover shoppers year round. That can increase to 20 with supervisors, trainers and Flating himself pitching in. Those with the boy-next-door or the girl-next-door look are the least likely to draw attention, he said.

"I thoroughly enjoy catching people," he said, "because if it was your store, they're stealing money right out of your pockets."

Flating said his company is rarely hired to catch shoplifters but is usually brought in to check customer service and employee integrity.

He said poor customer service can lead to shoplifting.

"I've had people caught for shoplifting tell me they shoplifted because nobody waited on them. We took a customer and turned him into a criminal," Flating said.

Ching said he last used undercover shoppers a long time ago, choosing instead to rely on surveillance cameras and other methods.

Many retailers attach electronic article surveillance tags to merchandise that trigger alarms if the tag is still on the item when it is taken out of the store.

Ching said Sears does not use the surveillance tags because of problems with them, including cashiers forgetting to remove the tags after the items had been purchased. The retailer uses dye tags instead that discolor the item if they are not removed with the proper equipment. Dye tags, however, do not prevent a thief from removing the item from the store.

Flating said no technology is foolproof. But surveillance and dye tags do serve as deterrents, especially to amateur thieves. They are kids who want something that their parents will not or cannot buy for them or people who want something they cannot afford. He said amateur thieves account for retailers' biggest losses.

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