CCTV in the Retail Environment

Shoplifters take great pains to be invisible to staff, but CCTV is a great way to keep an electronic eye on potential thieves.

Foiling Felons with Faux Cameras
CCTV technology can be costly for smaller retailers. If theft deterrence is the only object and the budget to accomplish it is miniscule, that goal can be reached in some measure through the use of fake cameras or domes. The cameras or domes are affixed to the walls or ceilings where the real McCoys would be placed. Potential shoplifters who think that the premises are under surveillance might seek greener, unprotected pastures.

The key to being successful with these fake contraptions is to purchase cameras that look real. A camera that resembles a kid's toy will fool no one and may actually increase thefts when the word circulates around the criminal community that the store is not employing detection devices. Many pretend cameras on the market look real and have wires that extend to plates meant to be attached to the wall. Some of them even swivel at intervals, as though someone were monitoring the store and moving the camera around to get a good look.

Tools of the Theft Trade
No matter how modern a store's surveillance equipment may be, shoplifters think up ways to circumvent sophisticated technology. The electronic component is only one half of the equation. The other half is the human factor. Good training is important for anyone who will be keeping watch via a CCTV system. If a worker doesn't know what to look for, the most expensive device in the world is worthless.

Many shoplifters employ booster bags or booster boxes—containers used to conceal items thieves are stealing, or "boosting." A booster bag or box is often a converted shopping bag or box that sports the name and logo of a legitimate store, or is wrapped to look like a gift.

Booster bags can be lined with aluminum foil or another metal in order to prevent sensors from detecting the presence of activated EAS tags inside when the shoplifter removes stolen items from the store. Booster boxes are sometimes fitted with a false bottom or a spring device so that when the box is set on top of or next to a desired piece of merchandise, the item is "swallowed" by the box.

Other devices used to conceal merchandise include baby carriages, which can be modified to include a large empty area underneath the baby's mattress where products can be stashed. Often, there is no baby in the carriage, or the "infant" is really a doll.

Booster coats are fitted out with many pockets and hooks the wearer can use to conceal merchandise. Booster bloomers consist of a pant-like garment that is worn under loose clothing and that ties around each leg, providing a large pocket in which clothing and other goods can be concealed. Similarly, professional shoplifters, or crotch carriers, can perform what is known as the crotch walk, which consists of concealing merchandise between the thighs and under a long dress or coat and walking out with it. Amazingly, proficient thieves can walk off with very heavy, bulky items in this manner.

There is no limit to the devices that crafty shoplifters will think up to separate stores from their merchandise. Keeping an electronic eye on the floor is one of the best techniques for retail crime prevention.

Liz MartĂ­nez is the author of The Retail Manager's Guide to Crime and Loss Prevention: Protecting Your Business from Theft, Fraud and Violence (2004, Looseleaf Law Publications, 800-647-5547). She is a member of ASIS International and is an instructor at Interboro Institute in New York City, a two-year college that offers a security management degree program. Ms. MartĂ­nez can be reached through her Web site at