Shoplifting Prevention Tips


  • Did you know? Theft of a $2.00 item from a store operating on a 10% profit margin requires the sale of $20.00 in merchandise to make up the loss. Supermarkets and others operating on low margins of 1% must sell $300.00 in merchandise, just to cover the theft of a $3.00 item.


  • General shoplifters are solid citizens who are bored or need to stretch their budgets.
  • Professional shoplifters are skilled thieves who have specialized techniques. The pro is the hardest to deter and most difficult to detect. The professionals usually target expensive items.
  • Youth make up nearly half of all shoplifters. Many do it just for kicks. Some even shoplift in gangs and compete to see who can steal the most.
  • Drug Addictions issues are the driving force to shoplift to support an expensive habit. These individuals are often desperate.
  • Kleptomaniacs are persons who steal because of psychological compulsion. Stopping the kleptomaniac is a service to both the offender and the community.


  • Greet customers as they enter the store. Attention is good for business and bad for the shoplifter.
  • Watch customers' behaviours. Are they watching you? Are they trying to distract you by asking about the product, to look in the back room, for a tissue, to use the bathroom, to call another store, etc? Darting eyes and nervous hands are frequent clues.
  • Be on the lookout for people carrying large purses or shopping bags or who wear unusually bulky clothing. Big open purses and bags that appear to be fairly empty are one of the biggest red flags to look for. After all, your shoplifter needs a place to conceal the items. Pay attention to the condition of the bag and the store name on the bag. For example if he/she is carrying a really beat up bag, know that it might have been used or reused in attempts to shoplift because most retailers will not just give away their crisp clean bags without a purchase being made. Due to the Go Green movement, many bring their own bags with them to put their purchases in.
  • Be wary of distracting situations. Pros often work in pairs—one distracts the employee, while the other shoplifts.
  • Is your customer shopping alone? Shoplifters will obviously shop together, distract and shoplift or they will arrive at different times as though they don't know each other, but in reality they are partners in crime.
  • Are there children involved? Is your customer distracting you while the child shoplifts or are you distracted by the child who could afford the customer time to shoplift?
  • Beware of the customers that might switch price tags on clothing in order to get them cheaper.


Hiding the Merchandise

  • A large open bag is a common shoplifter tool. It's placed at the thief's feet, and objects are casually dropped into it. Keep an eye out for shopping bags that are not from local stores. Preventing this is why many stores staple bags shut. Other stores require customers to leave their bags by the front door when they come in.
  • Women sometimes use purses to hide stolen items. There is little you can do to stop women from carrying purses and handbags.
  • The best prevention in these cases is to watch the customers very carefully.
  • The baby carriage or stroller is a great tool for shoplifters. There are always blankets, toys, and other things in strollers (including the baby) that merchandise can be hidden under. Some thieves have even built false bottoms in baby carriages.
  • A newspaper can be used to hide small objects.
  • Umbrellas with handles are handy for shoplifters trying to steal small items. A common tactic is to keep a closed (but not snapped) umbrella hanging on one's elbow or leaning against a counter, and then to drop items into it.

Shoplifter's Clothing

  • "Crotch-walking" is a technique used by women wearing full skirts and dresses. They simply place the merchandise between their thighs and walk away. Thieves who are good at this have been known to steal hams, typewriters, and other large objects.
  • Baggy clothes in general are good places to hide stolen items. Some people have extra pockets or hooks sewn into coats and jackets. Beware of the customer with a large coat who keeps his hand in a coat pocket. Some shoplifters have cut slits in the pocket lining, so they can reach for items without being seen. They may make a big deal out of inspecting an item while the other hand slips out and grabs something.
  • Some shoplifters are more daring.
  • Some shoplifters just grab stuff and walk out with it. They rely on the gullibility and slow response time of sales clerks.
  • Some shoplifters grab garments from racks close to the door and run off. This can be prevented very easily by alternating the directions of hangers. This makes the hangers "lock up" when someone tries to remove many at once.
  • The really brazen thieves simply walk out with large items that are not ordinarily put in bags. Prevent this by making it unusual for legitimate customers to carry out their large purchases, with a policy that all large items must be picked up at a location physically separate from the sale floor, or that employees take all large items out to customer's cars. Or you could put big bright stickers on purchased large items. This at least makes it easily for employees to tell if the merchandise is being stolen.
  • A common technique, especially if your fitting rooms aren't well monitored, is for the thief to steal garments by putting them on under her own clothes and wearing them out of the store. Others will just put the clothing on and walk out. It's difficult to catch one of these people, because if they haven't concealed the item, they technically haven't stolen it until they exit the store without paying.
  • Most shoplifters can't succeed unless they get some privacy. This is why one of the best ways to stop shoplifting is to greet customers as soon as they walk in, then be attentive to them the rest of the time. But skilled shoplifters can distract sales associates using the following tricks:
  • They enter the store in groups then separate which makes it difficult for employees to watch all of them.
  • A pair of shoppers comes in, and while one distracts you with questions, the other steals.
  • A single shopper sends the only employee in the store into the back room to find something, and then steals stuff and leaves before the employee comes back.


  • Most importantly, once you suspect you have a shoplifter on your hands, you must provide the best customer service ever, and fast.
  • This is the best way to deter shoplifting. Build a connection with the customer and exchange names. Once you have a name, whether it's real name or not, the shoplifters are less likely to shoplift from you because they know you are on top of your business.
  • Prevention methods to undertake if possible:
  • Install convex mirrors, closed circuit TV cameras or security officers.
  • Train your personnel to spot shoplifters and make sure they are vigilant.
  • Pay particular attention to fitting rooms and other isolated areas.
  • Try to arrange your counters and displays in a way to deter shoplifters.
  • Put displays in full view of all employees.
  • Lock anything small that can be easily slipped into a pocket or handbag, in counter cases when possible.
  • Keep expensive items away from entrances.
  • Most people employed in a retail environment are faced with shoplifting incidents on a regular, if not frequent basis. Unfortunately though, most do not know exactly how they should handle the situation.
  • From a legal point of view, if you interdict the shoplifter and detain that person for the police, you are in effect making an arrest.
  • Therefore, it is important that you know what your legal authority is:

Section 494 of the Criminal Code of Canada specifically states where your authority comes from.

  • Anyone may arrest without warrant

a) a person whom he finds committing an indictable offence; or

b) a person who, on reasonable and probable grounds, he believes

i) has committed a criminal offence AND

ii) is escaping from and freshly pursued by person(s) who have lawful authority to arrest that person.

  • Anyone who is the owner or a person in lawful possession of property; or a person authorized by the owner or by a person in lawful possession of property, may arrest without warrant a person whom he finds committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property.
  • Anyone other than a peace officer who arrests a person without warrant shall forthwith deliver that person to a peace officer.
  • As noted in subsection 2, the operative phrase is finds committing. You must actually see the offence take place. If someone tells you what occurred, you do not have the legal authority to detain that person for the police.
  • If you do see someone take some property from your store, the offence has to be complete. That means the shoplifter must be given every opportunity to legitimately purchase whatever item is in their possession.
  • Therefore the shoplifter must actually leave the store for the theft to be complete. Once outside, if you are absolutely certain the person took something, you should tell someone in your store what you are going to do, then approach the offender and identify yourself as the store owner or employee. Say something to the effect of, "I observed you take (item) from the store without paying for it (them). Come with me. I'm going to notify the police."
  • In most cases, the offender will do as you request. Escort the individual back to your office or other quiet area. Ensure the item(s) in their possession do not get discarded on the way there. You can look very foolish if this happens. Do not engage in searching the individual. Once in the office, ask for the property back. If the thief refuses, that's fine. Just ensure they remain seated with their hands in your view. The police will search them upon their arrival.
  • If security personnel are on duty, they should be summoned immediately. They are trained in how to deal with the various ramifications of an arrest and they will also be able to assist in maintaining a physical "force" while waiting for the police.
  • If security is not on duty, obtain some assistance from someone else - be it another employee, a neighbour or whomever.
  • Ensure that when you call the police, you use the 9-1-1 system. That's what it's for. Tell the operator you are "holding a shoplifter." Ensure that the operator knows you are not a store detective, but an employee. This will speed up the response time. If there is any sign or potential of violence from the perpetrator, ensure you advise the operator - especially if the thief is not being co-operative.
  • If there is a potential for violence, remember there are no points for being a "hero." Your safety is paramount. A thief can always be caught. If they will not co-operate with you, that's fine. Go immediately to a phone and call the police.


  • Shoplifters must know that you mean business. Have a policy in place and post ads through-out the store to state that shoplifters will be prosecuted.


  • Many businesses suffer substantial losses each year from employee theft. Make sure this doesn't happen to you:
  • When hiring, thoroughly check all references.
  • Do not tempt employees by having careless security or overlooking losses.

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