We steal business from you

The TOP tricks of thieves and fraudsters in retail

By Hans Günter Lemke

Situation last year: 391,000 reported shoplifting in the retail trade in 2015 alone. That was a new “high” for shoplifting. Shoplifting has also risen again in specialist retailers and “unfortunately” the number of criminal offenses will increase in 2016 and 2017 as well. But why do so many people steal anyway? Which motives are paramount?

The main motifs include:

  • Avarice and greed
  • Craving for recognition - articles are stolen that are “trending” or that cannot be afforded
  • "Confirmation urge", usually from a group of people (often a primary motive in adolescents)
  • Fun and pleasure in stealing- (unfortunately to be observed more and more often in celebrities -which is certainly not exactly exemplary and also tempts one or the other to steal more)
  • Financial hardship due to e.g. drug use or particularly expensive hobbies
  • Social needs - there is a lack of money to buy certain items and goods

Statistics also show that around 62 percent of all shoplifting is committed by men and around 38 percent by women. Why there is such a serious difference here cannot be clearly demonstrated.

It is also interesting to note that more than 50 percent of the cases reported in the retail trade were thefts of known customers, mostly even regular customers.

Most people have certain “images” when they think of a shoplifter or a scammer. If you ask someone “on the street” today who steals most often in Germany, you usually get statements like “all young people” or “foreigners steal a lot”.

These statements are false and not entirely free of prejudice. There are certainly regions in our country in which foreigners or young people have a larger proportion of the population and thus statistically “stand out” more. In general, however, shoplifters come from all walks of life and ages.

Everyone and everyone does (can) steal!

By the way: The publicly so-called “addiction to steal” (kleptomania) still plays a subordinate role in shoplifting. This disease is often an excuse used by shoplifters who could have afforded the stolen goods.

Theft takes place every day of the week and at any time of the day!

In any case, it is clearly recognizable that the “trend” goes more towards the later shop opening hours.

This certainly has something to do with the fact that shops are open longer these days and there are often fewer staff on the premises from the late afternoon onwards.

Another reason is certainly that many shops also have fewer sales staff available when they are later on. Experience has shown that this is particularly exploited by more professional shoplifters. In addition, it should not be forgotten that many employees in the shops after work “are less attentive and less concentrated than in the first few hours at the beginning of their work (which is of course understandable).

The months with the highest theft rates are March, April, November and December. In many shops it is now the case that, especially in the Christmas business from mid-November to the end of December, over 50 percent of all reported or recognized shoplifting are noticed.

Therefore, sensitize the sales staff particularly on these days and weeks.

By the way: The active greeting to the customer who enters your store is also a means of preventing theft. They don't know whether the customer is honest or not. With your greeting, however, you immediately signal to him: "I noticed or noticed you". It is therefore necessary that employees know and recognize the behavior and, above all, the current tricks and frauds of the thieves in order to keep inventory numbers and losses within the "framework". Because: If the most common tricks are known to all employees, there is a very good chance that shoplifters will avoid an attentive store.

The simple and most common method "not only in the" colder "seasons

The goods disappear directly into the shopping bag, into large coat pockets or wide open jackets. This simple method is used in over 90% of the cases. It concerns the so-called "occasional thieves", who have increased significantly again these days, ie perpetrators who "stood out" for the first time).
It also “disappears” more and more in large handbags or rucksacks.
As an employee, be attentive and actively address customers. Even the friendly greeting can signal to a possible thief that he has been "noticed".

The "distraction" trick with multiple customers

It is a method that is often used when multiple people shoplifting. Meanwhile, while one person attracts the attention of the sales force, the accomplices are shoplifting. Or: A person asks for the item that is not in stock in the sales room, but in the back of the shop or in stock. As a result, the sales staff has to leave the sales room unattended for a short time in order to pick up the item.
prevention: Always get colleagues and never leave the customer alone.

"Expensive for cheap" in a box

This method is explained using a simple example: the customer pays for a cheaper spirit at the checkout. In the box, however, there is a much higher quality one for 20 euros.
prevention: Always pick up the goods at the checkout and check them carefully.

“The exchange” trick

This trick represents a product fraud if one could prove the intention, which unfortunately is seldom possible. Fraudsters usually prepare this trick in unmanageable shop areas or in side rooms (e.g. customer toilets). The customer packs two beverage crates on top of each other and exchanges two water bottles with two high-quality spirits in the lower crate.
prevention: What to do if the cashier finds a "hidden" item during a close inspection?
The "cheeky" solution: "Scan" the article. If the customer pays for the additional article without objection, then you at least know that he wanted to cheat.
The "soft solution": You ask the customer in a friendly manner whether he wants the spirits too. "If he pays, you also know what to do and can at least warn your colleagues about dishonest customers when they come back to the store. That too is prevention. Of course, the reaction can also be from the customer saying that the spirits were in the box before and that they didn't notice.
The rule here is not to start a discussion, but to put the article aside and not object. If the customer tried to cheat on us, they will probably not try again the next time they shop. The thief is more likely not to say anything, as he is glad not to receive a criminal complaint because you did not see the theft and still prevented it.

The "shopping cart trick"

A practical example illustrates this method: There is also a magazine under the drinks crate. Also very popular with road salt and potting soil, which many beverage retailers offer.
prevention: This trick demands the cashier's attention more and more. Precise control, even if the checkout is “full”.

The "magazine in magazine trick"

A high-quality fashion magazine, for example, is put into a much cheaper magazine. Very popular with free customer magazines that are often “lying around” in a store.
It is better and "safer" to always hand over free magazines to the customer personally at the checkout. This also has a higher value for the magazine.
Another trick: a greeting card in a magazine.
prevention: Otherwise, always check sales magazines and books for "content".

The "relabelling trick"

This trick is criminally a forgery of documents if the fraudster is "caught" on site.
Often careless employees leave price labeling devices in the store. This can then easily be used by fraudsters to "make" the prices for themselves. Nowadays, the price labelers are easy to use, even for laypeople.
All pricing devices in a store should always be locked and only accessible to sales staff.
It is also possible to simply swap scanner labels.
It is important to know that the price on the sales shelf is a price indication and “only” the price in the till display and on the receipt is legally valid.

The "trick of trust"

This “scam” is particularly popular with so-called “regular customers”.
For outdoor placements:
For example, the customer goes to the cash register and says, "Please remove 5 bags of road salt for me".
The customer then takes 6 bags with him.
prevention: Always have the customer bring the goods to the cash register or a colleague will go along with heavy items.
Or: The customer has a bulk item, for example. six greeting cards. He only gives the cashier one card. The employee trusts the “hip” crowd of the customer and does not count.
prevention: Pick up the goods and count them.

The "pram trick"

A stroller makes it possible to steal a large number of articles. Due to lack of space, the goods are “necessarily” placed on the lower shelf. Is it then often "forgotten" to pay for the goods at the checkout ?!
Always stay alert and watch if the father or mother goes to the stroller with goods in hand, and noticeably often. Watch closely at the checkout - watch out for bags attached and ask if necessary. Also check whether a child is holding something in their hand.

The "helmet trick"

The “customer” comes into the shop with a motorcycle or protective helmet and, if he is not observed, puts goods in the helmet. Only what the customer is holding is indicated at the checkout. A popular trick for small items of all kinds.
Remain vigilant and observe if it is not possible for the customer to return their helmet to the store for safekeeping.

Recommendation for retail: Regularly train your employees on the subject.
This is the only way to keep employees sensitive and recognize possible theft in good time.
More information on the topic at: www.lemke-training.de


Hans Günter Lemke has been working as a freelance trainer, author and commercial consultant since 1998, primarily in the retail sector. His main topics are:
  • Successful theft prevention customer / employee
  • Achieve more sales with friendliness
  • Active additional sale successful at pos
  • More sales with optimal product presentation