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What to Do with a Shoplifter in Your StoreJuly 12, 2017

As a store owner, you work hard every day to earn a living. You pay your employees fairly, you manage your inventory accordingly, and you do your best to offer fair prices to your customers. There’s no doubt that shoplifters can make earning a living difficult, but there are some guidelines for handling them appropriately and safely.

Is It Legal to Detain a Shoplifter?

Many merchants take it upon themselves to detain (or attempt to detain) shoplifters until the authorities have arrived. The laws regarding shoplifting can be a little difficult to understand, and in some cases, attempting to detain a shoplifting suspect can get the shop owner into trouble. If you choose to detain someone you’ve witnessed shoplifting, it’s important to avoid placing your hands on that suspect at any point, and you should also never give chase if they try to run.

Handling a Shoplifter

There are a few steps involved in handling a shoplifter safely, but they’re simple to understand and execute.

  1. Watch for signs that a theft is about to occur. Shoplifters often look around often to see who’s watching them. They may wear very loose clothing, carry backpacks or oversized purses, and appear nervous. If you’re suspicious, simply walk toward this individual and ask if you can help him or her find something. Often, this is enough to deter them from shoplifting.

  2. Do nothing until the suspect exits the store with merchandise. Although it may seem suspicious to see someone place something in his or her pocket or purse, it isn’t illegal for a shopper to conceal merchandise. It’s only illegal when that individual attempts to leave your store without paying.

  3. Approach the shoplifter calmly. Introduce yourself as the store owner, and let the person know that you witnessed him or her walk out of your store with an item that wasn’t paid for. Tell them what they stole and where they hid it.

  4. Do not fall for tactics. Now that the shoplifter has been called out, he or she may try to say that the theft was unintentional. “I just forgot to pay for it.” This is common, and it’s rarely true. The shoplifter may also throw the stolen item at you and run. If this happens, don’t give chase.

  5. Call the police. The best time to do this is while you are talking to the shoplifter. This way, the police will already be on their way by the time the suspect has an opportunity to run or offer an excuse.

Security Cameras Save Money

In some cases, whether a shoplifter is prosecuted comes down to your word against his or hers. If there are no other witnesses, the case may never stand up in court. The shoplifter can simply say, “I forgot to pay for it and I gave the merchandise back,” then move on to his or her next victim. Security cameras can capture these thefts in a great deal of detail, including any strange behavior that is often so common with intentional theft. These can help ensure that shoplifters are indeed prosecuted, saving you (and other retailers) time and money in the end.

Dealing with a shoplifter is never fun, and while you certainly do have a right to accuse someone of shoplifting – and you may even have the right to detain them – it is always best to act in the safest manner possible and call the police as soon as you can.


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