How to Protect Your Store Against Fraud and Theft

“Almost no retailer is immune to organized retail crime,” notes the National Retail Foundation in a 2012 survey of loss-prevention executives [PDF]. “In its eight-year history of reporting, organized retail crime has never been so evident. Nine in 10 retailers in this year’s survey said they have been victims of ORC in the past 12 months.”

Meanwhile, retail fraud is on the rise, with experts estimating that illegal exchanges and returns alone cost the industry $9 billion a year.

Do you run a retail store? Minimize your risks of theft and fraud by adopting the following practices:

1. Stay alert. You want to expect the best of your customers, but you generally need to prepare for the worst in order to protect your business. Faced with temptation or hard times, people sometimes make poor choices — and you don’t want to be the victim. Take note, for instance, when customers linger in a specific area for an unusually long time. They could be debating whether to make a purchase or waiting for the right moment to steal an item.

2. Never work alone. You can’t keep an eye on everything by yourself, even if you sell in a small space. You need a colleague to “watch your back” (literally and figuratively) if a customer’s plan involves an attempt to distract you or, worse, threaten to hurt you to steal merchandise or cash.

3. Pay attention to customers’ accessories. Large purses and strollers are convenient, roomy places for thieves to conceal items they aim to steal. Keep your eye on people who seem to dress inappropriately, too, such as a customer wearing a bulky coat in the middle of July.

4. Secure your most expensive items. Keep your priciest merchandise in a locked display case, or focus a security camera on them if they’re in a spot you can’t see.

5. Keep aisles free of obstacles. You may be held liable if a customer slips on a wet walkway or trips on a misplaced item. Limit the chances someone could make a successful false injury claim by having a checklist and process for ensuring your store is kept clean and organized.

6. Always check IDs. Require employees to check signatures against photo IDs when customers use credit cards. This scrutiny could prevent fraud (i.e., a shopper trying to use someone else’s card).

7. Increase your intake of mobile payments. By taking in more credit card transactions through GoPayment, you will be minimizing the amount of cash you have on hand — and mitigating the risk that some of it will get stolen.

8. Take steps to avoid employee fraud, too. Require two employee signatures when processing cash refunds. Review daily transactions and deposits. Conduct surprise audits of employees who balance the books. Question financial figures that seem off-kilter. For example, have your sales figures gone down, but your inventory costs remain high? If so, an employee may be purposely misrecording some transactions, perhaps by not accurately ringing up every item a friend brings to the point-of-sale terminal. Implement a policy that employees can’t ring up their friends and family members — or stay close when such transactions occur.

About Sarah Johnson

Sarah Johnson is a business writer and editorial consultant. Her work has appeared in CFO and CIO magazines.
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