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Things We Need to Know on How to Spot a Shoplifter

Shoplifting, theft, and fraud are costing retailers billions of dollars. It’s important to remember that inventory shrinkage (theft, shoplifting, and error) was $50.6 billion in 2018, up from the year before. So the question is: How to spot a shoplifter? 

The recent rise in cyber-attacks impetus for a more significant overlap between loss prevention and cybersecurity.

With eCommerce, you can reach more customers worldwide than ever before. But this is also a haven for card-not-present transaction (CNP) fraud if you don’t take precautions.

What is the definition of shoplifting and how to spot a shoplifter?

Shoplifting is when a person takes an item from the store without paying for it. The intent to steal includes changing a price tag.

The most popular way to prevent theft is by using tags that will cause a store alarm when they are ripped off. However, many thieves know how to remove these devices before they steal.

To prevent shoplifting, you need to train your employees so they can spot the telltale signs of a potential thief.


Symbols of shoplifting or signs on how to spot a shoplifter:

how to spot a shoplifter

Shoplifters come in all shapes and sizes, but a few things to look out for. The following traits do not imply guilt: a -a person is acting suspiciously -is making unusual purchases (i.e., buying just one thing) or looking around without seeming interested in anything specific.

Offenders from the past

Shoplifters may not all look the same, but if you have been a victim of theft before then, there may be specific individuals who know your store and try to steal from it.

If you find out about an employee who is doing something wrong, use your security camera footage to capture their face and put it up in the break room to be on the lookout for themselves.

If you and your neighbors work together to share images of shoplifters, then all the retailers in the area will benefit.

Customers who are out of the ordinary

When you’re hiring, don’t just look for the typical customer.

Suppose you own a clothing store that caters to middle-aged, female professionals looking for office wear. In that case, your typical customer is not the teenager if they come in and walk around like they are shopping when it’s clear there’s nothing on their size or age range available for them to buy that’s an indication of trouble.

Clothing that is too big or large bags

When it comes to shoplifting, a thief will most likely have something big and baggy with them. A backpack or purse will do the trick if they’re looking for small items, but an oversized jacket can help hide goods from being seen.

Working in Groups

Sometimes, shoplifters are not lone wolves. They will work as a lifter distractor team. The distractor’s job is to keep the sales associate busy by asking them questions like

“Do you have this in stock”


“Where can I find that”

while the other person does all the stealing and leaves with whatever they want. It’s essential to know the basics of theft prevention, but don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s not a big deal. Some shoplifters are professionals and have some advanced tricks up their sleeves.

  • Shoplifters often use razor blades as a tool to remove tags from clothing once they have made it into the changing room.
  • Thieves use a trick called “booster bag” to avoid store security. They line their bag with tin foil and leave the shop undetected.

Other indications of shoplifting include:

  • “I’m not just here to shop”
  • “I have other jobs too”
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Loitering near store exits 
  • Dressing rooms are usually empty for a long time.


Theft by employees

how to spot a shoplifter

Employees who steal from their employers are called”internal thieves.”

The National Retail Security Survey found that smaller retailers are experiencing higher losses per employee-related case than in the past five years. This is due to recent data breaches and increased organized retail crime.

Retailers can prevent employee theft by instituting a new approach to the payroll system. They need to consider how different employees are motivated and figure out what type of commission structure would work best for them.

Inventory management

The majority of small businesses do not use technology to track their inventory. If they did, the result would be a more efficient and accurate system for monitoring how much is in stock at any given time and preventing overstocking. Supply Chain Digest estimated that U.S retailers are sitting on $1 per every dollar made if manually tracked.

When your inventory is inaccurate, dishonest employees can take advantage of their employer with little fear because they are less likely to be caught.

Retailers need to invest in a retail point of sale with comprehensive inventory management capabilities. Otherwise, they risk high shrinkage and not realizing the discrepancy until it’s too late.

What are the consequences of shoplifting?

In many states, shoplifting is charged as a theft or robbery offense. This means that the value of the stolen goods determines whether it’s classified as petty theft or low-level crime.

Other states do not view shoplifting as the same crime and might treat it differently than other theft crimes.

Massachusetts has a policy that is lenient for first-time shoplifters. If the stolen merchandise is worth less than $100, there will be no jail time and only a fine of up to $250.

The severity of the crime depends on what was stolen. It is more severe if you steal something worth a lot than if it’s not.

Liability in civil court for shoplifting

In addition to criminal charges, a shoplifter can be held civilly liable for the damages it caused.

For minors, the shopkeeper may seek damages from their parents or legal guardians. The monetary penalty is typically lower than an adult who stole items.

  • The full retail price of the purloined things
  • The store owner’s money losses that resulted from the thieving
  • Repayment of the shop owner’s court prices and legal fees

There are different laws for shoplifting in every state. 

Techniques for preventing losses

how to spot a shoplifter

To combat losses, retailers can invest in inventory management technology and train their staff to handle shoplifting cases. These two things are the most critical proactive approaches.

Technology for managing inventories

Inventory management is key to preventing inventory shrinkage, and retailers must invest in a retail point of sale that has extensive inventory management capabilities. This will help avoid overstocking, theft, or loss from occurring.

Training your employees

Train your sales associates to identify potential shoplifters and what steps they should take in those situations. You want them to be aware of the consequences of wrongful accusations, but you also need a strategy that prevents theft from happening in the first place: excellent customer service.

Most people don’t realize that if they spot someone who looks suspicious, the best thing to do is approach them and treat them like any other customer. The feeling of being watched can be enough to deter thieves.

Employees should never try to apprehend a shoplifter on their own. Instead, they should reach out to security guards or managers for guidance. Be sure that your employees are trained in the store’s policy of handling theft and share images with other stores if the person leaves before being apprehended.

CCTV Monitoring

The average person will not steal from a store if they know that the shoplifter is watched. How to spot a shoplifter? When there are hidden cameras, and it’s difficult to tell where their blind spots are, people, tend to correct themselves before committing theft.

Additionally, the security cameras have been invaluable in capturing visual evidence of shoplifters and can help escalate investigations with police.