Shoplifting Techniques

Some common techniques in the ancient art of retail theivery.

"Accidental" stealing
In "Accidental" stealing, a thief takes his place in the queue with the items he intends to steal, and pays for only one of those items while holding what he intends to steal in full view to cause confusion (or places said items into his pockets), while avoiding suspicion due to his apparent intention of payment. In the unlikely event of being caught, the thief can simply pass off the attempt at stealing as accidental. This method is also referred to as "left handing," a reference to the stolen item being held in the left hand while payment is made with the right.

Baby stroller boxes
This scam involves the use of baby stroller boxes, which tend to be quite large in size. A would-be shoplifter removes the stroller from the box and proceeds to conceal a large amount of merchandise inside. The would-be shoplifter then reseals the box and takes it to a checkout aisle, where he pays the purchase price for the stroller. If the scam is successful the would-be shoplifter walks out of the retailer with concealed merchandise still inside the stroller box.

Bagging, Simple
The '''Simple Bagging''' Tactic is when a would be shoplifter bags the item in a bag that they have brought into the store (ex. purse or shopping bag from another store). This generally done while no one is watching.

Bag switching
Bag switching methods are generally attempted by a group of two shoplifters. Typically the first shoplifter will have a large bag and gather a large amount of merchandise quickly to get the attention of a Loss Prevention Investigator. Once the first shoplifter knows that he is being followed he will conceal the merchandise into the bag. The first shoplifter will then switch his bag with the second shoplifter, who usually has a matching bag that is already filled with items that don’t belong to the retailer. Often the Loss Prevention Investigator will miss the switch and arrest the first shoplifter. Subsequently, the first shoplifter may claim false arrest and receive a gift card from the retailer.

Barcode counterfeiting
In barcode counterfeiting the shoplifter will bring in pre-made barcodes from low value items. They are then applied over the barcodes on higher value items. This allows the shoplifter to go through the check out process, make a payment, have any secruity tags deactivated by the clerk and walk out without any suspicious behavior. The shoplifter might be working with the check out clerk to ensure the incorrect prices are not noticed.

Barcode Switching
This is when a shoplifter switches the tags/barcodes between to pieces of merchandise most likely putting the cheaper tag on the product they wish to obtain

Booster boxes (bag)
A booster box is a device that allows a would be shoplifter to conceal a large quantity of merchandise on his person. These boxes are lined with metal or some other substance to prevent security tags from setting off the security gates at the exit. Typically professional shoplifters of large girth most commonly attempt this scam. The use of booster boxes is most prevalent at clothing retailers due to the fact that clothing merchandise can be easily molded to fit inside the box. Some professional shoplifters have been known in the past to attempt to use booster boxes to conceal electronics and DVDs.

Coupon returns
One of the more common scams involves returning items that were paid for partially with coupons. Some stores, including Target, refund the entire item amount, including the amount discounted by coupons. Shoplifters involved in this scam often shop at multiple stores, and have family members return items so that no suspicion is aroused.

Defective software scam
A person buys a piece of software from a computer store, exits, opens software, and records serial number/CD key for single license of the software purchased. After at least a few hours the same person re-enters the store he bought the software at and complains to customer service that the installation disc is defective. Most computer store policies allow same-item exchange for opened computer software, so person is given a different copy of the same software. The scammer now has two licenses after only paying for one. A more convincing variation includes intentionally nicking the top layer of installation CD/DVD, rendering the discs actually defective before exchanging it.

Double cart
Two shoplifters are usually involved with this scam. They fill two carts with goods and approach the checkout. They load the checkout with the high value goods first. The cashier scans the items and removes the security tags. One of the shoplifters bags the items and places them back into the now empty first trolley. As the second trolley is being scanned the first shoplifter leaves with the first trolley while the second shoplifter stays at the checkout. The remaining goods are scanned and the cashier awaits payment. The second shoplifter puts on an act of a forgotten wallet. This gives the first shoplifter time to load the goods into a vehicle. The second shoplifter then makes an excuse to go and get her wallet, and leaves the remaining goods at the checkout. She then leaves the store and they escape with the high value goods.

Fake return
Sometimes shoplifters will actually gather an item from the selling floor and try to receive money for it without a receipt at the return station. Although this method is not as fool proof as the receipt matching method, it is very effective particularly when done to an inexperienced cashier. Usually the shoplifter will start complaining to the cashier about his inability to return the merchandise. Typically the shoplifter will state that he lost his receipt or threaten the cashier by stating that he wants to talk to the employee's supervisor. To avoid confrontation the cashier will ring up the return and give the shoplifter the value of the merchandise. (See refund theft.)

False alarm scam
The shoplifter grabs something with a tag on it, puts it into someone else's bag, and waits for him to walk out. As soon as the alarm goes off the shoplifter walks out with whatever he's stolen without being stopped.

Fitting room bagging
Typically this scam is seen in large clothing retailers. This scam generally preys upon the common Loss Prevention policy of prohibiting the apprehension of shoplifters when concealment is not actually seen by an investigator. The shoplifter enters a retail establishment with a large bag, and then selects a large amount of merchandise and takes it to a fitting room. Once inside, the shoplifter conceals the merchandise into the bag out of sight of store employees and store investigators.

This technique is very effective due to the fact that most department stores do not supervise the dressing room (they do not check the amount of clothes a person has before and after using a dressing room). Also, because it is common to leave clothes in the dressing room that one does not wish to purchase, entering a dressing room with clothing and exiting with none will arouse no suspicion.

Gift card cloning
In this scam, a normal store gift card with no value attached is stolen from a store. The shoplifter then clones the magnetic strip on the back of the gift card and makes a copy or copies of it. The original gift card is then returned to the store by the shoplifter. The gift card is activated once purchased by another customer, and the dollar amount applied to the legitimate gift card is passed to all the cloned gift cards.

Grab and run
A common shoplifting technique is known by the Loss Prevention community as a "grab and run." Simply put, a shoplifter enters a retail establishment usually with prior knowledge of what he is looking for. The shoplifter moves very quickly toward the merchandise he or she wishes to steal. Once the shoplifter has found the merchandise, he or she proceeds toward the nearest store exit, usually while running. Due to the short amount of time that the shoplifter is inside the store, persons who attempt this scam are seldom caught or, in some cases, even detected.

Less common is for a group of people to rush into a store, grab as much merchandise as possible, and then rush out. The speed at which this happens as well as the large number of people involved make this approach difficult to stop.

Metal-lined clothing or containers
Metal-lined sacks, containers, or clothing (such as aluminum foil-lined undergarments) allow a would-be shoplifter to shield the RFID tags attached to merchandise concealed on his person from the scanners at the door of a store (see Faraday cage). 2001 Colorado House Bill 01-1221 made it a misdemeanor to possess, use, or know about and fail to report others who possess RFID shielding devices with intent to foil anti-shoplifting devices.

Milkshake subterfuge
A less common shoplifting technique used for smaller high-dollar items is the milkshake subterfuge. A milkshake is purchased by the shoplifter and taken into the store. The shoplifter proceeds to drop small heavy items like jewelry into the milkshake. On leaving the store her milkshake is unlikely to be searched. Shoplifters using this method must be wary of drinking too much of their milkshake or the items will be revealed in the bottom of their cup.

Opening the item
This is a very simple form of shoplifting that has been used for years. The shoplifter gets a small valuable item, quickly puts it in a pocket, so that CCTV cameras and store staff don't notice. Then the shoplifter goes to the public toilet, opens up the item, and flushes wrapping down the toilet. The shoplifter is sure to unwrap the item so that alarms will not go off when he or she leaves. After finishing this, the shoplifter simply walks out with it in a pocket. To combat this, many stores have policies barring unpaid merchandise from being taken into restroom facilities.
Alternatively, with DVDs or other disc type merchandise, the shoplifter picks up the item and walks away with the look of wishing to buy additional merchandise. In another area of the store, the shoplifter very precisely cuts a slit in the cellophane wrapping on the side the case opens on. Using a plastic knife (most commonly, but can be anything rigid and flat that will do little damage to the disc, such as a popsicle stick) the shoplifter pops the disc off of the internal clasp and slides the DVD out from within the case. They then leave the item's case somewhere in the store and exit with the disc hidden. Often this is not discovered until the item is purchased and opened legally.
Another smaller value version of this method is usually used in a grocery store. The shoplifter walks up to an item that they could eat or drink while browsing and does so. An empty can be discarded on any shelf in the store (stores usually do not provide a trash can so no forgetful consumer throws away what they should be purchasing). Even if the shoplifter is not finished with the item, by the time they approach the check out counter the cashier will sometimes think they came in the store with it.

Out the wrong door
This method requires a common outside door with two diverging doors from the vestibule: one for an entrance (which is not usually supervised) and one for an exit. Two people enter the store. One person retrieves merchandise from the selling floor. When this person is ready to leave the store, he waits at the entrance door. The other person walks around to the exit, walks into the vestibule and activates the entrance door on the way out, and the person with the merchandise also leaves. Sometimes the second person will just distract the cashiers while the person with the merchandise waits for some unknowing customer to enter the store and activate the entrance door.
Another variation is to exit through a fire door. Although these are alarmed, by the time staff respond, the shoplifter will be long gone. Many stores now have fire exit doors that operate with a delay - the alarm is set off several seconds before the door can be opened.

Power failure
In the event of a power failure where all lighting and CCTV goes out, the shoplifter quickly grabs as much merchandise as possible and calmly leaves the establishment before power is restored.

Razor Finger
This technique involves using a razor blade to remove or destroy security tags on merchandise. The razor blade is taped onto the fingers with medical tape to give the appearance of an injury. The blade is then used to cut off or destroy the security tags. This technique was used in the book ''Evasion''.

Receipt matching
The receipt matching scam involves using receipts to match merchandise codes from the receipt to items found in a store. Most retailers use company specific merchandise codes on their merchandise so store personnel can identify the location more quickly and efficiently. Additionally the merchandise is used to verify merchandise that was purchased at a particular retailer during a return. This information is printed onto the receipts of purchased merchandise.
Typically shoplifters will search either retailer's parking lot or trashcans looking for receipts that have a high dollar item on it. The shoplifter then enters the store and compares the code on the receipt to the codes printed on the merchandise in the store. Once the shoplifter finds a match he will take the merchandise to the return area and receive money for it. Typically, to avoid detection, shoplifters will use a piece of paper with the merchandise code they are looking for written on it.
Another variation is to purchase the target item, then leave the store, and send a friend back in with the receipt to obtain the same item. The friend can either return the item right then, or leave the store with a second target item.

Receipt passing
A person walks into a retail store and buys a high-value item, such as an iPod. On the way out he gives the receipt to a friend who enters the store, receipt in hand, picks up the same high-value item and a low-value accessory, at the checkout he shows the receipt to the cashier explaining he already bought the item, but walked back to buy the accessory. The accessory is then purchased, and thus the thieves get two for the price of one. This method is combated by locked merchandise.

Rope and fenceline
In large retail stores such as Home Depot and Walmart that have Garden areas where there is no ceiling, two shoplifters will attempt to steal merchandise. One shoplifter will wait outside, while the shoplifter inside will take a cart full of merchandise (such as drills or sawblades) to the garden center. The shoplifter inside will then tie the merchandise to the rope, and throw the rope over the fenceline, and the shoplifter waiting on the other side will untie it and take it.

Self-checkout scam
At some larger retailers, such as Wal-Mart, customers have the option of using self-checkout lanes, in which customers do not interact with employees at all when making purchases but check themselves out at a computer. Customers are expected to scan the items that they wish to purchase, insert payment for the scanned items, then bag the items and leave the store. Shoplifters have been known to purchase small items with these machines, and place additional items in their bags without paying for them. In some grocery stores with salad bars, thieves can find the UPC for a small salad and place a pack of cigarettes on the weighted scanner, type the UPC for a salad, and get away with a cheaper pack of cigarettes. Many shoplifters intentionally act slightly confused when using these machines, and act as if they are attempting to scan the item which they wish to steal, so that, if confronted, they can claim that they took the additional items by mistake.
NOTE: The majority of these self check out machines have scales under the shopping bags (where you place the item after scanning). The scale checks that the amount of items in the bag weighs the same that is scanned. If the weight is off, generally, the supervising attendant will be signaled to come to the station for assistance.
This scam involves footwear at major shoe stores or department stores. The shoplifter starts with finding the intended shoes to steal and when ready, asks the store sales associate to retrieve the correct sizes from the back stockroom. Once the shoes are brought out, the shoplifter will try on the shoe and pretend wrong sizing or that the shoe is uncomfortable. They ask for a new size and state that they will do a size comparison in which the shoes being worn are then left with the shoplifter. Once the store associate is sent back to the stockroom to retrieve the 2nd size, the shoplifter simply walks out with the new pair of shoes leaving the old pair in the box. Store associates assume that they must have changed their mind and discoveries are usually made when the same pair of shoes are summoned by a new customer. If seen by other store associates or door/greeting associates, the shoplifter explains that wearing the shoe immediately is preferred.

Shoe-switching (Alternative)
This scam involves stores that allow customers free access to shoeboxes (the customer does not have to ask an attendant to retrieve shoes). The shoplifter walks in with a pair of old shoes and replaces the new shoes in the box with those. Any security alarm tags on the new shoes are discarded. The shoplifter walks out wearing the new shoes while leaving the old shoes behind.

Shoe Box Switching
A shoplifter walks into a shoe store and finds an expensive pair of shoes. The shoplifter wears the expensive shoes. Old shoes in hand, the shoplifter finds a cheap shoe box and places his old shoes in it. At the cash register, the cashier looks inside the shoe box and ask, "Are you wearing the shoes right now?" The shoplifter replies, "Yes, I am wearing the shoes right now." The cashier scans the box and the shoplifter leaves the premises with expensive shoes but having paid for a cheaper pair. This works in stores with accessible shoe boxes, such as warehouses like Academy Sports and Outdoors.

Shopping cart magic
Shopping cart tricks are often disregarded by Loss Prevention personnel. Typically, older or professional shoplifters usually attempt this scam. The scam works in the following way: when the shoplifter first enters the store, they locate an empty shopping cart. The shoplifter finds the item they are looking for and typically place on the bottom or under the baby seat. The shoplifter then continues to gather a small dollar amount of merchandise and places it in the shopping cart. The shoplifter then brings the shopping cart to register and removes all the merchandise with the exception of the item they wish to steal. If the cashier is not paying attention the shoplifter will usually be able to get the merchandise past them without much effort. After paying for the smaller dollar items the shoplifter leaves the store and successfully pulls off the scam. The most prevalent method used to combat this scam is the use of door personnel who are trained to ask for receipts for high dollar and un-bagged merchandise; however, the shoplifter is under no legal obligation to comply with this.

Shopping cart passing
Shopping cart passing is usually attempted by a two-person group of shoplifters. The first shoplifter will gather the desired merchandise into a shopping cart and take it to the register. The cashier will then ring up all the merchandise and place it in bags. Once the total is rung up, the first shoplifter states that they forgot their wallet in their car. The first shoplifter will then exit the store and most cashiers will put the shopping cart off to the side and resume ringing up customers. At this point, the second shoplifter moves in and grabs the cart and walks out of the store with the stolen merchandise in bags.

Wal-Mart TV theft
A shoplifter fills a cart with about two weeks' worth of groceries and a DVD and pays for them at the register. In the meantime an accomplice approaches the store's door with a TV. The two meet up at the doors and pass through simultaneously, with the TV on the far side of the associate/greeter. As they pass through the doors the TV will set off the alarm. When the greeter asks the shoplifter carrying groceries to show his receipt, he claims that the DVD in the cart set off the alarm. The person carrying the TV will be outside waiting for the person with the grocery cart at the getaway vehicle. They quickly flee. The scam is said to work best with LCD TVs under 32".

Walk out technique
The walk out technique is the process of browsing the store, collecting the target item(s), and upon completion, simply walking out of the store with item(s) in hand. This seemingly impractical idea is can potentially be very effective if the shoplifter's appearance and attitude are not of a suspicious nature. This tactic is usually limited to small amounts of clothing and is generally only done in large department stores that have multiple entrances.

Walk out technique (Alternative)
In the alternative walk out technique, the shoplifter walks casually up to the item that he wants, takes it, then walks to the doors. Once the shoplifter gets there, he simply lifts the item over top of the scanners. The shoplifter may also re-use a bag from the same store to put the item into.