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A shoplifter may exhibit certain types of behaviour, and exert a certain body language which can arouse suspicion.

Things to look out for include:
  • Attempting to avoid attention or being noticed
  • Sweating / becoming flushed
  • Repeatedly browsing - picking up and putting back the same items
  • Eyes wandering, paying little attention to the product in their hand
  • Looking around the store rather than products on the shelves
  • Appearing nervous
  • Wearing clothing which is not appropriate for the weather that may be used to conceal goods
  • Carrying large bags
Train your staff to be vigilant and alert to recognise thieves.

Common shoplifting tactics

There are a number of shoplifting methods, understanding how people shoplift will help you prepare for preventing it.

Distraction theft – a group of people will enter a store and distract staff in order to steal.

Staff collusion – staff will work with ‘customers’ to steal goods or cash.

Bagging – items will be hidden within bags brought with thieves into the store. Metal lined bags will prevent any exit tagging alarm systems being activated.

Hiding merchandise – thieves may store goods in the under-tray of prams, or conceal them within clothing or handbags. Offenders may also hide items within the packaging of less expensive goods which they will purchase.

Walk out techniques – simply selecting items and walking out without any attempt to conceal the items. This can be effective if done without exhibiting any suspicious behaviour.

Price swapping – changing over price tags in order to pay a lower price at the till.

Fake returns – thieves will select an item in store and take it to the returns desk in an attempt to obtain a refund. Thieves may say that they have lost their receipt and threaten to speak to a supervisor if the cashier is none compliant with the return.

Accidental’ Stealing – where a thief pays for one item at the till and holds another in view, or places it in a pocket etc. If caught, the offender can simply pass the theft off as an ‘accident’.

Detaining a shoplifter – your powers

Please always ensure that your personal safety is your first concern.

Do not put yourself at risk of harm. Assess the situation for dangers to your physical safety prior to intervening.

Staff should be trained by their employer in procedures for dealing with shoplifting incidents.

A person other than a police officer can make an arrest if you:

KNOW an offence has taken place and KNOW that the person committed it. In other words, you need to witness the offence being committed. This is the best and safest criteria for an arrest.

Alternatively you can arrest if you:
  • KNOW an offence has taken place and REASONABLY SUSPECT the person has committed it.
  • You can only exercise your citizen’s power of arrest when it is not reasonably practical for a police officer to make the arrest for you. Additionally the arrest must be necessary to prevent the person in question:
1. Causing physical injury to himself or any other person
Suffering physical injury

2. Causing loss of or damage to property; or making off before a constable can assume responsibility for him
In all cases you can use reasonable force to make the suspect comply with your instructions.

If an offender runs away make note of the direction they are travelling in, and note details of the incident including description of the offender and details of any vehicles to pass onto the police.

Retail Crime Unit: A stores guide to reporting crime

  • Obtain all witness details
  • Obtain full description of suspect/s and direction of travel
  • Circulate suspect description via local Town Link Radio to other stores/Police
  • Download CCTV footage and place into video evidence bag
  • Obtain till receipt detailing stolen property
  • Complete continuity statement in relation to any CCTV and/or exhibits
  • Complete full witness statement detailing offence
  • Always check and update ERAC (Essex Retail Against Crime) Folders
Essex Police is committed to the prevention and detection of crime including shoplifting. Essex Police target offenders who commit crime within the County and as such any information you may have regarding shoplifting offenders within your retail store should be passed as intelligence to Essex Police via the non-emergency number, 101. Always call 999 in an emergency.

This information guide was written with the kind assistance of Northants Police

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