Combating Internal Theft at Retail Businesses

Stacey Leary, an asset protection manager for Gart Sports, tells SIW readers how he breaks the cycle of internal thefts

He then goes on to pave the way for a confession by mentioning cases of other employees who have stolen and their reasons for doing so. "I put myself in their shoes," Leary says. "I say that the thefts are understandable. I allow them to save face."

One of the things that Leary says works in his favor is that we are raised to tell the truth, and we're also taught that stealing is wrong. "I never call their actions 'stealing'," he stresses. "It's always an 'error in judgment'. Once you say the word 'stealing', the interviewee starts thinking about the consequences, and you don't want that to happen. If they think about what's going to happen to them, they won't reveal any of the other crimes they've committed against the store."

Interestingly enough, Leary says that what most employees are thinking about during the interview is whether or not they'll lose their job -- not whether they'll go to jail for what they did. "I tell them that I'm not the person who makes that decision and that they shouldn't concern themselves with that right now. And they keep talking," he says.

Tying up the Legal Ends

"You always want to get an admission of guilt," Leary says. "You don't want to have to spend any time in court, and an admission is a good way to avoid that."

The company goes after employees for civil recovery, and if the amount is large enough, it will call in the police and prosecute.

In particularly tough cases, Leary says that he will ask a suspected employee, "What would you do about an employee who's stealing if you were in my shoes?"

"If the person says, 'I'd give the employee another chance,' you know you've got him," Leary says. "No honest person will say that."

According to Leary, the key to reducing internal theft is to use both technology and interviewing skills. "You can't have just the technology or just someone on staff who can conduct an interview," he says. "You need both in order to be effective."

About the author: Liz Martinez 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), and is a retail security/loss prevention consultant and an instructor at Interboro Institute in New York City. She can be reached through her website at