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How to Confront a Shoplifter: The Ultimate Guide

Have you ever been in a situation where you witnessed someone shoplifting and weren’t sure what to do? I have. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, seeing someone commit a crime and not knowing whether or not to intervene. But intervening is exactly what you should do if you witness shoplifting! As citizens, it’s our duty to help prevent crime whenever we can. And while confronting a potential thief may seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be. With the right knowledge and preparation, anyone can successfully confront a shoplifter and stop them in their tracks. So if you’re wondering how to confront a shoplifter, read on for some helpful tips!

How to Confront a Shoplifter

Retailers and store employees have a right to make a Citizen’s Arrest.

If you catch a shoplifter in the act, you are within your rights to make an arrest. However, you should only do so if it is safe to do so. How to confront a shoplifter?

According to the police, citizens should only make arrests in the most extreme of situations.

How to Make a Citizen’s Arrest

In some countries, like Australia, the public, such as store owners, and their employees, can legally detain someone if they witness them commit or about to commit a criminal offense.

If you can, make a note of the time, date, and place of the offense and what was stolen. This will be helpful if the police need to investigate the incident.

If possible, try and get a description of the offender including their height, age, build, hair color, etc. This will help the police identify the offender if they need to.

If there are any witnesses to the offense, try and get their names and contact details in case the police need to speak to them.

Call the police as soon as possible and let them know that you have detained someone who has committed an offense. Give them all of the information that you have noted down. The police will then attend and take over from you.

Do not try and stop the offender yourself or chase after them. This could put you in danger and it is best to leave it to the professionals.

If you do detain someone, try and do so in a public place where there are other people around. This will make it harder for the offender to escape and it will also make it easier for the police to find you if they need to.

Do not use force when detaining someone unless absolutely necessary. If you do use force, make sure that it is no more than is reasonably necessary to prevent them from escaping or causing harm to themselves or others. Only use as much force as is necessary and never carry weapons with you when making a citizen’s arrest.

Make sure you can see them take the item, as courts confirm that members of the public can’t hold people on a suspicion of theft.

When making a citizen’s arrest, you must have evidence that they have actually committed a crime. The citizen’s arrest and detention must also take place at the time the crime was committed. This is to ensure that the arrested person is guilty.

It is important to make sure that you witness the act being committed to make a citizen’s arrest. The courts have confirmed that detaining someone on suspicion is not allowed.

If the shoplifter denies taking anything, ask to see what is in their bag or pockets. If they refuse, let them go.

If the shoplifter admits to taking something or you find stolen items, calmly tell them that you are making a citizen’s arrest and why. Ask them to come with you to the store office or security room.

If the shoplifter refuses to come with you, call the police. Do not try to physically detain the shoplifter yourself as this could lead to a violent confrontation.

Find the person who you think has stolen from the store. Show them your identification, and explain that you’d like to speak to them about the merchandise they may have been taking.

When making a citizen’s arrest, it’s important to be polite and calm when detaining a shoplifter. However, if they refuse to cooperate, you can hold them for a certain amount of time until the police arrive.

If you speak to the shoplifter politely and confidently, they are more likely to cooperate and come back to the store office with you.

If you decide that making a citizen’s arrest of a shoplifter is appropriate, you should:

  • Approach the suspected thief and politely ask them to come with you.
  • Consider the risks. Is the thief dangerous? Could they hurt someone?
  • Be aware that if a store worker is injured by the shoplifting suspect, the store owner may be liable for damages.

When arresting a shoplifter, it’s important to consider if the customer or store employees might be in danger.

If an employee of a retail store is injured by a customer while attempting to carry out a citizen’s arrest and the customer has not received proper training in citizen arrests, the store owner may be liable for the employee’s injuries.

When deciding whether to apprehend a shoplifter, consider the potential risks to customers and employees. If the shoplifter appears to be dangerous, apprehend them and call the police.

If you decide that a citizen’s arrest of a shoplifter is necessary, you should:

  • Detain them using a reasonable amount of physical force.
  • Explain to them the reason for their detainment.
  • Escort them to the nearest store office.

If you have reason to believe that someone has shoplifted from your store, you can detain them using reasonable force. If the suspected shoplifter refuses to come with you to the office, explain why they are being detained and continue to use reasonable force as necessary.

Any use of force that a reasonable individual in a similar situation would employ is acceptable. But, what seems acceptable to you might not be what the court deems to be appropriate.

Use the minimum amount of force necessary. You should only use as much force as is reasonably necessary to make the arrest and prevent the shoplifter from escaping. Don’t put yourself or anyone else in danger. If you believe that making a citizen’s arrest could put yourself or anyone else in danger, you should not attempt to make the arrest and should instead call the police.

When you find someone trying to steal, you should let them know that the authorities are being contacted and then contact authorities immediately.

When arresting a shoplifter, it’s important to call the police immediately. Minimize the risk to everyone involved. The shoplifter should be presented immediately to a police officer so they can be processed according to the laws of their jurisdiction.

If the suspected thief is armed or threatening you with harm, you should not attempt to detain them yourself. You should immediately contact the police.

When detaining a suspected criminal, you should only do so if you are certain that they are guilty of the crime. You should not act out of revenge or anger.

If someone has stolen something from a store, you should ask them to hand over the stolen property.

If the suspected thief refuses to let you search them, do not try to force them. You could face charges for assaulting them.

If the shoplifter refuses, you should not conduct a search of their person or any property they have in their possession as this could lead to you being charged with assault.

Do not leave a shoplifting suspect alone under any circumstances. Doing so allows them to get rid of any stolen property before police can apprehend them. If you have to leave, take all property that was stolen with you.

Your observations of a shoplifted item will be crucial in determining whether the police have enough evidence against the suspect.

It is important to take note of the details surrounding the incident, as you may be required to give a testimony in court. Be sure to include information such as what you saw, the time it occurred, your actions, and any conversation that took place.

You can release the shoplifting suspect at any point.

If the suspected thief is under the age of 18, you should call the police, their guardian, or their parents. This lessens the risk of you getting in trouble for making the citizen’s arrest and ensures that the person gets the proper help they need.

Be careful to avoid assault charges and false imprisonment claims

If during an arrest, you use excessive force, the citizen you detained could sue you for assault and battery. Be prepared to defend yourself in court.

If the incident is investigated by police, and the person is not charged with shoplifting, you could face civil claims for wrongful detention. This is worth keeping in mind if you are thinking about making a citizen’s arrest.

You should always seek professional legal and other advice before making any final decisions.

Shoplifting signs

There is no specific profile of a burglar, but there are certain traits that indicate they may be one. These can include anyone of any gender and any ethnicity, but there are a few warning signs that burglars tend to share. Remember that these signs do not always mean that they are guilty of burglary.

Keep your store safe by always being on the lookout for potential thieves.

Past offenders

If you have had issues with shoplifting in the past, you may be already aware of specific individuals who have or have tried to shoplift from your store.

If you’ve found out who’s responsible for stealing, use your camera system to catch them red-handed. Hang their picture up in your lunchroom so other employees know who to look out for.

If you have identified a shoplifter, it is beneficial to share images of the offender with local retailers. By working together, businesses can help to prevent future incidents of theft.

Oversized clothing or bags

Keep an eye out for individuals who do not resemble your average customer.

If you notice someone who looks out of place, like they’re dressed inappropriately or have a large, bulky item, they could be a shoplifter. Be sure to alert store security and police if you see anyone acting suspiciously.


Some shoplifters work together in teams. One person, called a lifter, steals the items, while another, called a distractor, creates a diversion to distract the store employees.

The distraction tactic is when a salesperson is occupied with asking the associate to find an item or check inventory while the lifter is stealing.

The lifter takes merchandise while the sales associates are busy with the distractor.

As a sales associate, it’s important to be aware of the various ways professional shoplifters may attempt to steal merchandise from your store. By being vigilant and knowing what to look for, you can help prevent shrinkage and keep your store’s inventory safe.

Here are some common tricks that shoplifters use:

Dressing up: Wearing loose, baggy clothes makes it easy to hide merchandise on your person. Shoplifters will also wear layers of clothing so they can quickly strip down and put stolen items on underneath their clothes. While it’s good to be aware of the basics, never underestimate how wily shoplifters can be; some of them are professionals who have a lot of experience in this type of theft.

Some shoplifters carry thin, sharp blades (like razor blades) and use them to remove alarm tags once they’re safely in the changing room. This can be a difficult task for store employees to prevent.

Alarm tags are designed to deter thieves from stealing merchandise from stores. However, some criminals have found a way to bypass these security measures by lining their bags with tin foil. This method allows them to quickly load up on stolen goods and leave the store undetected.

Tips for Minimizing Instances of Shoplifting

So, how can retail businesses prevent, catch, and handle shoplifters? Here are some helpful hints.

Maintain Visibility

As a retail employee, it is important to be aware of your surroundings at all times to deter potential shoplifters. Keep an eye on all areas of the store, especially dark corners, and blind spots, as these can provide easy hiding places for shoplifters to stash away items in their clothing or bags. By being vigilant and keeping a close watch on customers, you can help create a safe and secure shopping environment for everyone.

Maintain an Organized Store

Keeping your store organized can help to prevent theft. However, it can be difficult to keep an eye on things if the aisles are cluttered and your products are poorly displayed.

It is always best to have a plan for your store layout and to keep it clean, so you can easily identify when something changes or is misplaced.

Adding mirrors to your store can help prevent any blind spots that may be too difficult for you or your employees to constantly monitor. By having mirrors in strategic locations, you can help ensure that your store is always clean and organized.

Train Employees to Spot Suspicious Behavior

Including loss prevention lessons in your training program can help your employees spot shoplifters, and encourage them to report any instances of their coworkers stealing.

When employees are properly trained in loss prevention, it creates a better work environment. Employees who are properly trained can be trusted to help prevent loss and can be held accountable for their actions.

An employee who is trained in loss prevention will be able to spot suspicious behavior and help other employees follow store policies.

Post Deterrents

A sign that says you actively pursue shoplifting cases can dissuade people from stealing or encourage them to choose a different store.

Some other simple measures, like CCTV cameras inside the store and alarm systems at the door, help remove that decision from someone’s mind and make it easier for you to better monitor your store in a more public manner without inconveniencing customers.

When employees are active on the sales floor and engaging with customers, this also helps to discourage shoplifting. By increasing customer exposure and coverage, it creates a better overall experience for in-person shoppers.


How to confront a shoplifter? If you witness someone shoplifting, don’t be afraid to confront them! With the right knowledge and preparation, you can successfully stop a thief in their tracks.