The recent Minneapolis riots showed the easiest way to get away with theft:
A riot is a coordination problem. If one person tries to steal from a store, they can be caught and arrested. If a thousand people try to steal at the same time, there?s no way for the police to respond to them all.
You might have to wait 10?20 years for just the right conditions. Once civil order breaks down, go ahead and take whatever you want. Usually, you?re going to have to come up with some other way to get stolen goods out of the store.
I worked a retail security job once. I got to know some of the most common techniques. Here are some ways people steal from the store:
- You can just push a cart with stolen goods out the door. People would roll bikes out the door or put a TV in a cart and head on out. You might get stopped, but sometimes no one is paying attention. Target?s policy is to check receipts for unbagged merchandise, if there?s a guard at the door.
- You can put merchandise in a Target bag, to make it look like you purchased something. This might work, lots of people do it. People also hide items in pockets, down their pants, inside large puffy coats, inside backpacks, inside purses, inside coolers, or even in baby strollers. Sometimes people would bring in covered, empty strollers for the sole purpose of shoplifting.
- To legally catch you, the security team needs to follow a certain set of rules. They must see you conceal an item. Security must maintain constant surveillance of you, until you exit. They must wait until after you exit the store to catch you. Simply putting goods in your pocket isn?t a crime, you have to exit the store without paying. Typically this means after you?ve gone past the theft alarms.
- If you eat food within the store, you have not stolen anything, because no stolen merchandise has exited the premises. The store can complain, but not arrest you. People did this sometimes, we just called it ?grazing?.
- Security has limits on how far they can run to catch you. In my store, this meant if you stepped off the curb outside, you were safe. It?s about 50 feet from the theft alarms to the curb. How fast can you run? You?ll get funneled through the exit door. Sometimes another guard will be waiting for you outside the door in case you try to run. Some people will run out the entrance door if it happens to be open and get away. Some teams will break the rules and chase you past the curb, as far as they feel like. Are you feeling lucky? What?s your endurance like?
- Security has rules on where they can do surveillance. They can not watch you in the bathroom. If you conceal merchandise, go into the bathroom, and then exit the store, no one is technically allowed to stop you. Security might break the rules and stop you anyways.
- People will sometimes steal clothes, or sunglasses, or headphones, and wear these as they walk out. There was an obnoxious fashion trend among (mostly black) teenagers which complicated catching this. Many kids would buy clothes (particularly baseball caps) and never take the price tag off. If enough people in a community do this, it?s hard to spot the one stealing. Again, it?s a coordination problem.
- Some people would buy a large item, but fill the box with other, smaller, more expensive items. This is just another means of concealment, but it makes it look like you?re paying for something before you leave the store. One woman at our store filled a car seat box with hundreds of dollars of smaller things. The security alarm went off. We had watched her conceal things, so we stopped her. Otherwise, someone might have just checked the receipt and let her go.
- The security alarm will go off if your concealed item has a theft tag on it. Most low value items don?t have one. Higher priced things do. When people tried to defeat the alarm, they generally did so by taking the entire packaging off the item, which is time consuming and conspicuous. Our store used a type of paper sticker with a printed circuit on the back. You could peel off the sticker. But it also works to just tear the tag a little, or slash it with a razor blade. The wire in the tag is a coiled antenna, and introducing a single break in the circuit deactivates it.If you place two tags back to back, neither will set off the alarm (I think the induced signals from each cancel out).I never tested, but I?d guess that using aluminum foil bags would defeat the alarm. I?ve noticed that one DVD in a shiny metal foil box could not be security tagged?simply having that conductor on one side of the tag kept the alarm from sounding.
- To avoid the security alarms, consider other exits. Each store also has a number of convenient emergency fire exit doors. People would occasionally grab high-value items and run out a fire exit with them. Some stores have the exit on a time delay, so you have to wait 15 seconds after the alarm sounds, before you can leave. If security is not already watching you, it?s unlikely they?ll get there in 15 seconds.
- Many theft schemes can be made safer with 2 people. Have one person without any merchandise lean on the fire exit to sound the alarm, and the other somewhere nearby with the goods. If the first person gets caught, they can claim it was an accident. If no one shows up, both can run out. Better still, have a car ready somewhere outside.
- One enterprising thief came up with his own entrance, by breaking a hole through the roof. The overnight stocking and cleaning crews did not seem to notice or care, as he walked around inside the building for 30 minutes one night, before ultimately leaving out a fire exit.
- Some people will switch price tags from a low-value item to a high-value one. People might put the $40 blue ray player sticker on a $200 blue ray player. You can even print your own UPC stickers for price-switching purposes, though I haven?t seen anyone do that.
- Price tag switching can also be made legally safer with 2 people. Have the first person come into the store and switch tags. Have the second come in later and buy the tag switched item. If they?re caught, deny all knowledge of what happened.
- Box stuffing can also be made safer with 2 people. Have the first one fill that car seat box with lots of goodies. Have the second come in later and buy it. Plausible deniability, unless you do it multiple times, and the store builds a case against you.
- The stolen merchandise can ultimately be used, sold to other people, or returned without a receipt for a giftcard. You can then use the giftcard or sell it on ebay, to get cash.
- Some people pay with counterfeit money. I only saw a few bills caught, typically it was a $100 or a $20 that had been printed onto a bleached $1 or $5 so the paper was right but the watermark was wrong.
- Even more people used fake checks, which ranged in quality from fairly good to laughably bad. The checks from one large group had only one evident problem. Get out a check of yours and look at the line where you put your signature. Note that this isn?t actually a solid line, but is actually made up of tiny words. A lot of people that print their own checks simply use a line. Some others try to print in a small font, but it doesn?t end up looking right since it?s beyond the capabilities of their printer. Other fake checks were worse, with gross alignment errors, or missing memo lines.
- Some people would use fake credit cards. These ultimately rely on theft of someone else?s account, which is encoded into the magnetic strip. But the quality of the printed card wasn?t always perfect. Most cards have an embossed V or M, for visa or mastercard. The font of that letter was usually wrong. But if the card worked with the swipe, usually no one ever looked at it.
- A lot of people also use stolen credit cards to make purchases with, for instance a card stolen via robbery or a car break in. This is surprisingly hard to catch, since the thief isn?t actually stealing from Target, but stealing from the card holder/card company. Sometimes, such people give themselves away through suspicious behavior in the store or while checking out. If they can compose themselves well enough to act like a normal shopper, security won?t notice that anything?s wrong.In one case at our store, a thief repeatedly broke into people?s cars, stole their credit cards, and used them in the store. He got away with this again and again, but eventually a cashier noticed that the customer was using a different card each time, and the next time he came in, we managed to arrest him. The whole process was incredibly poor at stopping this ? by the time he was caught, the thief had managed to buy $5000 worth of stuff from the store.
- If you leave the store with unbagged items, you sometimes have to show a receipt. You can try to walk out with the same item twice, though, and show the same receipt each time. Switch the shopper or the store so it?s not as obvious. I?ve never seen anyone try this, but maybe it has happened ? I would check the date on a receipt, but I generally didn?t check the time or store number.
- I saw a lot of return fraud, using a similar idea. On the first case that I saw, one woman walked into the store, bought 400 dollars of merchandise, and took it all out to her car. She then gave the receipt to her friend, who walked in, filled her cart with identical items, and took them to the return desk. Pretending this was stuff she?d just bought, she asked to return it all and get her money back. That return was investigated and refused since returning 400 dollars of stuff half an hour after you buy it is rather suspicious.Other times, people would just find a receipt on the ground and use that. In the most ridiculous case I saw, a man walked in with nothing in his hands. He walked to the back of the store, got $30 worth of batteries, then walked up to the return desk at the front of the store, and pulled out ?the receipt for these?. The cashier noticed that the batteries he?d grabbed were a different kind as the batteries on the receipt. The customer didn?t give up, but instead said ?okay, let me go get the right ones?, walked to the back of the store again, got some more batteries, and tried to return those. He could?ve at least tried saying ?let me go get the other ones from my car?, or something?I only remember these two examples because these people were especially inept and they were stopped. People got away with this form of fraud all the time, if they were more subtle about it.
- There?s also a form of coupon fraud, but this is more rarely used. If done properly, you can buy a bunch of things with coupons, then come back and return all the items as if you bought them at full price. Strangely this does work sometimes ? the coupons do get printed on the receipt, but you can also do a return without a receipt. The transaction is stored in the store?s computer. Since most people just return part of the purchase, the receipt doesn?t get reprinted, but instead the clerk just scans each item, and the register says whether or not this item was part of the sale. Thus, the clerk stays unaware of the coupons, and the customer gets each coupon markdown turned into cash.
- I see potential for gift card fraud, though I didn?t personally see anyone try this. Target has racks of gift cards, where the customer can choose a design, then take it to the register and put money on it. In the simplest approach, you would just pick up one of the gift cards, copy the barcode (or just write down the number on the card, I assume that the barcode and the number are the same data). Place the card back on the shelf, then wait for someone to buy it. Next, make a simple forgery with the same barcode printed on it, and use it in the store to steal whatever money the other customer used.Since there?s the uncertainty of when the card will be bought, and for how much, this approach would only work in a large operation, stealing many numbers. Better yet, get an employee involved to monitor large gift card sales.You could be even more successful if the company has a simple algorithm for generating new gift card numbers (I?d guess that some stores just do them sequentially). I read that Walmart had to completely redesign their gift cards because of widespread theft along these lines.
- If you steal less than $20, the store is unlikely to even stop you ? each security team is scored on various aspects like how many shoplifters they catch, how many employees they catch stealing, and so forth. The team gets marked down for making under $20 stops because they can?t prosecute someone for that amount, and it?s probably a waste of time to stop watching other people while dealing with the one person they catch. There?s definitely a chance you?ll be caught, though, and there?s a chance you?ll be referred to the police, so I can?t recommend to anyone that they simply steal one small item a day, or whatever. If the store is diligent enough, they can also keep video of every time you steal and ultimately charge you for everything (they?re unlikely to waste their time on this for most people, though).
- Stealing anything under $950 counts as misdemeanor petty theft. If it?s a first time offense, you?ll be taken to jail, booked, cited, and released the same day. You might be given a court date (I think there are cases where no one bothers to prosecute, for instance if the shoplifter was mentally retarded). Large numbers of people will simply skip the court appearance, and be issued a ?failure to appear warrant?. That doesn?t mean much ? it?s not like someone comes and hunts them down and drags them to court. If they?re later caught for another crime, or pulled over for speeding, or whatever, then the warrant will show up when the cop checks their license, and they should be arrested.
- In most cases, I was shocked at how mild the penalties were for everything. The majority of thieves are simply caught, taken to the police department, then released the same day. I saw three illegal immigrants get caught for petty theft, and in every case they were simply cited and released, not held and deported.
- If you?re caught multiple times, you can be charged with felony ?petty theft with priors?. Stealing over $950 is grand theft, which is also a felony. Fighting to try to escape escalates the severity of the crime, as does entering the store to commit a clearly premeditated theft.
- As long as we?re talking about grand theft, the biggest cash value item in a Target store is not the merchandise, but the cash itself. During holiday season, an employee will push a wheeled red box, called the skim box, from one register to the next, to collect cash as the registers fill up. Then the box goes to the vault. The skim box might end up with $40,000 on a big holiday shopping night. An armed robber could easily grab it and drive off with it. But if you?re that type of criminal, you might as well rob a bank.
- The most money you can possibly make from a store is via lawsuits. If you can get security to harm you while they think you?re shoplifting but you?re not, you can probably get a settlement up to $500,000. I?ll leave the plan up to your imagination.
- At the store I worked at, most theft was by customers. At an average store in America, most theft is done by employees. Usually that means skimming transactions, taking from the register, things like that which add up.
- On an average day in America, most theft is done on Wall Street. Fund managers take a cut of your retirement. Jerome Powell prints money to make rich people richer. At some level, I?ve grown to admire petty thieves and all the creativity they put into getting their own share of free shit.
- This is not advice to steal. Do you want to hurt this cute puppy?