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What to Do If You See a Customer Stealing

Theft has become a common problem for many businesses today. So what do you do when you catch these shoplifters? This article teaches you what to do if you see a customer stealing. 

What To Do If You See A Customer Stealing

There are many cases of shoplifting. As a retailer or an employee, it’s important to know what to do if you see a customer stealing.

First, you need to know that you have a right to make a citizen’s arrest.

If you catch a shoplifter in the act, you are technically allowed to apprehend them. However, police advise you against doing this unless it’s necessary.

How to minimize risks when arresting a citizen

In some countries, members of the public, including business owners and employees, can make a citizen’s arrest of someone if they think they’ve just committed a crime or are in the process of doing so.

If you follow these tips, you’ll minimize your risk when making a citizens’ arrest.

If you can, make a note of the time, date and place of the offence 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 colour etc. This will help the police identify the offender if they need to.

If there are any witnesses to the offence, 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 offence. 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.

It is important to make sure that you actually see the person taking the item in question, as courts have confirmed that detaining someone on suspicion alone is not permissible.

Approach the suspected shoplifter. Show your identification to the potential thief and explain that you’d like to speak to them about items that may have been stolen from your store.

If the shoplifter refuses or tries to leave, you can detain them for a reasonable period of time in order to call the police. You should not use force unless absolutely necessary. When making a citizen’s arrest it is important to minimise risk as much as possible. This means being firm but polite when confronting the shoplifter and asking them to accompany you back to the store office.

If you have any concerns for your or someone else’s personal safety, you should not attempt to detain a shoplifter yourself. Instead, you should immediately contact the police.

An employee may have a civil claim for damages against a shop owner if the employee is injured while carrying out a citizen’s arrest, particularly if the employee has not received adequate security training.

Consider whether the shoplifter is a threat to any customers or employees.

Remind the person that it is illegal to possess stolen property and ask them to return the items to the rightful owner.

If the suspected thief refuses to let you search them, do not attempt to physically restrain them. This could result in you being charged with a crime.

Be cautious to avoid assault charges and claims of false imprisonment

If you detain someone for too long, they could also bring a claim of false imprisonment.

If an incident is investigated and the shoplifter is not charged, you could be at risk of a civil claim for damages for false imprisonment. This is something to be aware of if you are considering making a citizen’s arrest.

This text is a commentary on a legal case. It is not specific advice, but rather general information.

You should always seek professional legal and other advice before making any final decisions. The content of this website is also subject to change.

This disclaimer is a notice that the person named may not practice law in all states and territories.

Safety First

When you catch someone shoplifting, always keep your guard up. You never know what kind of weapons they have on them, so approaching them cautiously is your best bet.

If they leave the store with unpaid merchandise, don’t go running after them and try to go all Chuck Norris – unless, of course, you’re trained to do so. Police involvement is the best option here. Call them and let the professionals handle it.

Stealing a sweater is stupid, and if your company is against vigilante justice, you could lose your job.

Shoplifting signs

What are some characteristics of a potential shoplifter? Some potential shoplifters may be nervous or fidgety, try to keep to themselves, or have bulges in their clothing that could be hiding merchandise. Others may try to distract employees or create a diversion.

Keep an eye out for thieves in your store, and follow our tips to prevent shoplifting.

Past offenders

While not all thieves have the same look, some stores may recognize certain individuals as repeat offenders.

If you catch someone in the act, use your security cameras to take a picture of their face. Hang it up in your employee lounge so other employees can be on the lookout.

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 shoplifting incidents.

Security cameras are important tools to help catch shoplifters. 

Atypical customers

Be on the lookout for people who don’t fit your usual customer profile. They may be the ones who need your help the most!

If a group of teenagers walks into your clothing stores, it may not be the best fit for them. Your stores specialize in clothing for middle-aged, female professionals, so they may not find what they’re looking for. However, we would be happy to help them find a store that better suits their needs.

Oversized Clothing or Big Grocery Bags

If you notice customers who look out of place, they could be shoplifters. Keep an eye out for big bags and clothing that doesn’t fit. Report any suspicious activity to management or police.

Large bags and oversized clothing can be used to hide stolen goods.

Other shoplifting signs

Shoplifters try to avoid eye contact with the staff or security guards. Also, they loiter around or spend too much time in the changing rooms.


Now you know what to do if you see a customer stealing. Rember, the best thing to do is to try and stop them from leaving the store. If they do leave, get their license plate number and call the police. You can also report them to security or loss prevention. By following these steps, you can help prevent shoplifting and keep your community safe.