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To catch a thief

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At least once a week, a scrawny looking dirty, tall, and shaved head 25 year old guy walks into Starbuck’s.

He walks to the refrigerated section where there’s $6 meals, yogurts, and whatnot.

If there’s a line, he’ll walk around the line.

And he’ll grab something.

From there, he pirouettes around  with an act that is a feeble attempt to lead the observer to believe he’s gotten a phone call, to which he’ll set the item he’s just grabbed on a table which is set up adjacent to the refrigerated section – just a little bit further away from the check out area..

After this, he will glance, nervously, across the room.

To see if anyone’s spotted him.

He’ll pace.

Back towards the restroom.

Then he will walk back to the front door and on his way out not so deftly grab the item he’d just walked towards the door.

Kiddies, if you’re looking to become a thief. This is absolutely the wrong way to do it.

And here’s why:

  1. Do not be Impatient!

    The first rule of thievery is patience. Unless of course you’re Winona Ryder and want to be caught. Take a moment or more to plan your assault. Don’t just cut in line like that to grab an item, you raise the attention of pretty much everyone – who’s first reaction is ‘what an impatient dick’. But now you’re being watched.

  2. BLEND IN!

    I cannot stress this enough. But good thieves don’t look like thieves or like suspects at all. They are chameleons – they blend in with their surroundings and the crowd they’re mixing with.They’re indistinguishable. And as a petty thief you have just made the biggest mistake of thieves and that’s to shine a spotlight on you with your ghetto presence. So NOT only will this raise the attention of the people in line and the staff, you’ve also made yourself easy to spot and pick out in a crowd. They call it profiling for a reason. You’re being a moron and deserve to be.

  3. Don’t be repetitive!

    If you’re going to steal from the same place over and over again, CHANGE IT UP! Don’t use the same act over and over again which draws even more attention to you. Think about it. Every time you come in and never buy something and pretend to be on a phone call. People WILL remember this after enough times. BE creative. And for the love of God, ‘walking’ the item out the door becomes not that much different than walking in naked with a bullhorn in attracting attention.

  4. Don’t be Nervous!

    NEVER, EVER look around the room nervously ONCE you’ve committed your act. This should be in a handbook of thievery 101. Not only are people going to be trying to figure out why you’re looking and acting suspicious, but even if you’re just scoping the room, from that point forward all eyes will be on you. Walk away at this point, you’ve dug your own grave.

So today. Another thief walks in.

He’s already blown it with rule #2 above. He’s homeless and looks and smells it. Adam calls him a psychopath because he’s completely socially unaware and uncaring.

He does kind of remind me of Christian Bale in American Psycho.

Now he’s been in here before, and been kicked out more times than I can count on both hands.

He’s a more skilled thief.

He patiently waits in line.

Grabs an item from the refrigerator.

With his back to the room and facing the register – while she’s helping the other customer he slowly shifts the item to the bag. Not drawing any attention whatsoever.

Well, with the exception that he’s ghetto looking.

And to his defense, he did wait until both managers who’d had experience with him and had kicked him out before had left for a smoke break. So he did do a decent job on the planning phase.

So he walks up to the register, and asks for some water.

From there, he walks to the restroom in the back – which is near the counter. I assume he devours his meal, and then walks right out about five minutes later after without grabbing the water.

He broke rules #2 and #3, and while he may have gotten away with it with the staff. The people around him, like Adam and I – now have our entertainment radar on alert for this guy at all times.

And finally, there’s the expert thief.

To call the guy a master would be a lie. But he’s very good.

He’s an older, well dressed white haired man. He looks like he’s retired. And he’ll walk in. Grab a paper – and from there he walks to the refrigerator. He then typically walks all the way back to the back of the line and around/through the lobby – as there’s always a line when he comes in – coincidence – I think not.

And sometimes. He sits down at a chair and enjoys his prize. Other times, he walks right out the other door.

Now this one – he’s great at what he does – but the difference between him and the others is this: After enough time, he breaks rule #3, which is what makes it possible to catch him – provided you pick up on the patterns which deviate every once in a while.

Now, because he tended to take about $20 worth of stuff at a time – in contrast to the others who the staff tends to leave alone who’d take just enough to feed themselves – he’s suddenly on ALL the staff’s radar.

Now success in thievery isn’t just about your sleight of hand skills.

It’s contingent in large part on your social etiquette and awareness of the impact of your own actions on those around you.

Now all three of these thieves were successful.

The first one no longer comes back. I like watching him so he leaves when he sees me staring at him when he glances nervously across the room.

The second one. He’s going nowhere fast and chances are he’ll wind up in a gutter because of his total lack of social awareness which one day will send someone right over the edge.

But the third man, the older man. He’s on the right track. He just has to find a few more places to haunt if this is going to be something he’s going to make a habit of. And with enough staff turnover here at this Starbucks, they’ll forget him in six months or so and he can add this back in to his rotation.

How can a high volume Coffee shop like Starbuck’s mitigate this risk:

  1. Make the entire staff aware of who the repeat offenders are and just have the staff ‘look out’ for them and actively watch them. In a lot of cases, people who know they are being watched WILL change their behavior provided they’ve got a good sense of right and wrong. Some wont. This can serve diminish the loss without risk to the staff.
  2. Make all items visible to the cashier. This seems pretty simple to me – but in retail systems, if the cashier cannot see the items then they can’t see the hand that grabs the item and places it in a bag. For a grocery store this is much harder to do, but for a place like a convenience store or coffee shop where there’s less money in volume and more to be made on convenience, when items start disappearing off the shelves that annihilates the bottom line.
  3. Hire someone like me. To act homeless. To sit in the corner, and passively pay attention to the crowd. To do precisely what I’m doing now. Only provide me more incentive so I don’t just regard it all as entertainment. Tat and create a formal set of actions I or others like me should take if/when we see something.

Now here’s a BIG caveat.

You may think a great response is on premises security.

That’s a tough one. Hiring security usually comes at a high cost – whether that’s making the patrons feel less secure, or it’s less staff to provide service to the patrons, it usually creates a very different customer experience which may not be beneficial to the organization.

That’s not to say on premises security shouldn’t be an option. But to me, there’s far more elegant and customer conscious ways of loss prevention than flashing a badge and a gun.


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