This Christmas the risk to retailers’ margins from theft is greater than ever before, according to the Lodgic Intelligence Centre.

The escalated threat results from three factors: increased activity by organised criminal gangs; reduced security staffing resulting from the hike in the minimum wage; and a decline in the response to shoplifting by the police - who may be unwilling to respond to the theft of items worth less than £200.

Operating nationally

Close to 80 percent of retail losses from crime result from ORC (Organised Retail Crime), committed by some 140 criminal gangs currently operating nationally, according to analysis at Lodgic, which is operated by security consultants Lodge Service.

Shop staff are often distracted and many of the temporary personnel hired for the season are often poorly trained in detecting

Gangs feel they can operate almost with impunity at Christmas. Their activities are hidden by large crowds in busy stores and shopping centres. Shop staff are often distracted and many of the temporary personnel hired for the season are often poorly trained in detecting and preventing the threat from shoplifters. But few retailers are aware of the scale of the problem from ORC. Often this is because seemingly small, isolated incidents are in fact related.

Suspect transactions

Criminals keep coming back to what they see as a soft target - and then heading off to another branch, perhaps in another city, to avoid detection.

To counter gang activity, analysts at Lodgic intelligence centre are using data mining systems, working with a retailer’s on site and headquarter teams to investigate losses and track patterns of criminal behaviour. They can then link incidents to identified thieves, who usually have a string of aliases. The analysts look back at all suspect transactions to check names, addresses, dates, card details, locations, and other statistics. This data is used together with national crime reports, whistleblower and other sources, so they can anticipate where the criminal gangs are most likely to strike next.

Unmanned checkouts

The Lodgic intelligence centre then deploys store detectives on a daily basis to anticipate and stop crimes. Teams are trained to work undercover to identify criminals and undermine each threat to a store, shopping centre or logistics chain and then initiate a police arrest.

Unmanned self-service checkouts are a recipe for shoppers to help themselves - according to research at Lodgic

Britons are stealing £3.2 billion worth of goods from self-service tills each year. Unmanned self-service checkouts are a recipe for shoppers to help themselves - according to research at Lodgic. Almost 25 percent of people sampled in one survey admitted to stealing at least one item without paying. Another study shows theft from unmanned checkouts has more than doubled in the past four years.

Detecting scan-avoidance

Significantly, 40 percent of those who admitted to stealing said the reason was that they knew they could get away with it. With domestic budgets squeezed this Christmas, there is a sharp increase in incidents.

The technology for detecting scan-avoidance is getting the full attention of the total loss community. This includes systems like Transpeye, that links transaction data with video and other systems, so that managers on site or located remotely get automatic alerts, supported by filmed evidence, when an ‘exception’ occurs. But current technology still might not be enough to protect the retailer facing this type of threat this Christmas.

Costs of protection

Problems include monitoring a transaction to see if a low value item is scanned but a higher priced product is bagged and taken from the store. Surveillance and analysis at the point of sale to confirm a physical match is a particular challenge.

Any protection has to be proportionate. Losses must be measured against the costs of protection, including having more staff on the premises to either serve customers or observe. This is a key issue in 2018 and beyond with the increase in the minimum wage and other inflationary wage costs. A further strategy to consider is to train customers to stay honest, according to Lodgic.

Fraudulent activity

Clearly when people believe that they are not observed and unlikely to be stopped and questioned then the likelihood of theft increases

Clearly when people believe that they are not observed and unlikely to be stopped and questioned then the likelihood of theft increases. A single incident of theft can develop into a habit for an otherwise honest customer.

Strategies can include managing live transactions remotely, with supervisors monitoring and looking for patterns of behaviour that indicate fraudulent activity at the point of sale. Already with Transpeye software there is the capability to do this, with internet connection of video and data to the Lodgic intelligence centre.

Measures might also feature further changes to store layouts and use of a range of behavioural cues and signals to increase the customer’s sense of being observed. This remedy might not be in time for Christmas this year, but perhaps it should be in a New Year’s wish list.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version Download PDF version

In case you missed it

Remote Monitoring technology: Tackling South Africa’s cable theft problem
Remote Monitoring technology: Tackling South Africa’s cable theft problem

For decades, cable theft has caused disruption to infrastructure across South Africa, and an issue that permeates the whole supply chain. Here, Ian Loudon, international sales and marketing manager at remote monitoring specialist Omniflex, explains how new cable-alarm technology is making life difficult for criminals and giving hope to businesses. In November 2020, Nasdaq reported that, “When South Africa shut large parts of its economy and transport network during its COVID-19 lockdown, organised, sometimes armed, gangs moved into its crumbling stations to steal the valuable copper from the lines. Now, more than two months after that lockdown ended, the commuter rail system, relied on by millions of commuters, is barely operational.” Private security firm Despite this most recent incident, cable theft is not a new phenomenon to sweep South Africa Despite this most recent incident, cable theft is not a new phenomenon to sweep South Africa. In 2001, SABC TV broadcast a story following two members of a private security firm working for Telkom, a major telecoms provider. In the segment, the two guards, working in Amanzimtoti on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal, head out to investigate a nearby alarm that has been triggered. They reach a telecoms cabinet and discover that it has been compromised, with the copper cable cut and telephone handsets strewn across the ground. In the dark, they continue to search the area when one of the guards discovers the problem: 500 metres of copper wire has been ripped out. In their haste, the thieves have dropped their loot and fled. Widespread cable theft Had they managed to get away, they would have melted the cable to remove the plastic insulation and sold the copper to a local scrap dealer for around 900 Rand, about $50 US dollars. For the company whose infrastructure has been compromised, it may cost ten times that amount to replace and repair the critical infrastructure. The disappointing takeaway from this story is that two decades on from this incident the country still faces widespread cable theft, whether it’s copper cables from mines, pipelines, railways, telecoms or electrical utilities. In fact, the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimates that cable theft costs the economy between R5–7 billion a year. The answer to the problem must go further than the existing measures used by companies. Detect power failure Most businesses already invest in CCTV, fences, barriers and even patrol guards, but this is not enough. Take the mining sector, for example. These sites can be vast, spanning dozens of kilometres - it’s simply not cost effective to install enough fences or employ enough guards or camera operators. As monitoring technology gets better, the company has seen site managers increasingly use cable alarms in recent years that detect when a power failure occurs. The idea is that, if one can detect a power failure, they can detect whether the cable has been cut The idea is that, if one can detect a power failure, they can detect whether the cable has been cut. The problem is though: how does one distinguish the difference between a situation where a cable has been cut intentionally and a genuine power outage? Power outages in South Africa are an ongoing problem, with the country contending with an energy deficit since late 2005, leading to around 6,000 MW of power cuts in 2019. Remote terminal units Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., the company that generates around 95 per cent of South Africa’s power has already warned of further blackouts as the company works to carry out repairs to its power plants. According to a statement on the company’s website, “Eskom spends in the region of R2 billion a year replacing stolen copper cables." The result is that criminals take advantage of the gaps in power to steal cable, timing their robberies to coincide with the published load shedding schedules. The basic alarms used to detect power outage won’t recognise the theft because they register a false-positive during a power cut. By the time the power comes back on, the deed has been done and the criminals have gotten away with the cable. The good news is that recent breakthroughs in cable monitoring technology are helping tackle just this problem. New alarms on the market now combine sophisticated GSM-based monitoring systems that use battery powered remote terminal units. Legitimate supply chain Unlike the basic alarms that look for the presence or absence of power, these new systems monitor whether the cable circuit is in an open or closed state. In the event of a power outage, the unit continues to run on battery power and can detect if a cable has been cut, sending a priority SMS alert to the site manager immediately, giving them a fighting chance to prevent a robbery in progress. Beyond the opportunistic theft carried out by petty criminals, the theft of copper cables forms a wider problem Beyond the opportunistic theft carried out by petty criminals, the theft of copper cables forms a wider problem across the supply chain in South Africa. In recent years, the combination of unscrupulous scrap dealers, the alleged involvement of large scrap processing companies and lax penalties meant that much of the stolen copper ended up back in the legitimate supply chain. However, recent changes in the law have sought to take a tougher stance on copper theft. Alarm monitoring technology According to the Western Cape Government, “The Criminal Matters Amendment Act, regulates bail and imposes minimum offences for essential infrastructure-related offences." The act, which came into effect in 2018, recommends sentencing for cable theft, with the minimum sentence for first-time offenders being three years and for those who are involved in instigating or causing damage to infrastructure, the maximum sentence is thirty years. It seems to be working too. In January 2021, the South African reported that a Johannesburg man was sentenced to eight years behind bars for cable theft in Turffontein. While the longer-term outlook is a positive one for industry, the best advice for businesses seeking to alleviate the problem of cable theft in the immediate future is to invest in the latest cable-theft alarm monitoring technology to tackle the problem and make life difficult for criminals.

What are the positive and negative effects of COVID-19 to security?
What are the positive and negative effects of COVID-19 to security?

The COVID-19 global pandemic had a life-changing impact on all of us in 2020, including a multi-faceted jolt on the physical security industry. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see more clearly the exact nature and extent of that impact. And it’s not over yet: The pandemic will continue to be top-of-mind in 2021. We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: What have been the positive and negative effects of Covid-19 on the physical security industry in 2020? What impact will it have on 2021?

Maximising supermarket safety with real-time surveillance solutions
Maximising supermarket safety with real-time surveillance solutions

Supermarket employees have been the hidden key workers of the past year, keeping shelves stocked and queues under control as panic buying gripped the nation. As a result of being expected to enforce face covering and social distancing regulations, they also been asked to act as de-facto security guards alongside their existing duties. This is problematic as many employees have never had to deal with this kind of responsibility before, let alone received any conflict de-escalation training. In order to maintain the safety and security of their staff retailers must take additional steps to uphold their duty of care, with the NPCC recently specifying that it is the responsibility of retailers ‘to manage entry to their stores and compliance with the law while customers are inside’. Supermarkets in particular need to be aware of this requirement, as the big four recently announced that their employees would now be challenging customers shopping in groups and those not wearing masks. Verbal abuse from the public Crime against retail employees has already been a major issue over the course of the pandemic, confirmed by research from the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers that found 90% of retail staff in the UK experienced verbal abuse last year. The Co-op has recently been vocal about the effects of the pandemic and lockdown-related frustrations on its employees.90% of retail staff in the UK experienced verbal abuse last year The supermarket reported a 140% increase in crime within its stores over the past year, with many of the 200,000 cases related to verbal and physical abuse experienced by employees. Jo Whitfield, Co-op Food chief executive, confirmed that the number of issues has already increased drastically as a result of staff enforcing COVID-secure guidelines. So, what steps must retailers take to ensure their duty of care remains intact as employees take on new enforcement responsibilities? Introducing real-time surveillance technology to support security guards and shop floor employees alike is vital. Bolstering front line defences Security guards posted at supermarket entrances are the first line of defence against shoppers determined to break the rules. However, they are now being pulled in multiple directions with queues to monitor and occupancy to manually keep track of, along with the usual security alarms to respond to. With one person usually posted at the entrance at any one time it’s simply impossible to have eyes everywhere, which is where automated video surveillance comes in. COVID-specific technologies, such as mask detection and occupancy management systems, are now the golden bullet to retail safety and security.Mask detection and occupancy management surveillance tools can automatically alert a shopper Mask detection and occupancy management surveillance tools can automatically alert a shopper whether or not they are allowed to enter the store on their approach to the door. The system surveys the person and a screen will automatically display different instructions depending on the situation: whether they must put a mask on before they enter, wait until capacity is low enough to enable social distancing or, if the previous criteria are fulfilled, that they are free to enter. COVID-secure safety This stand-off technology minimises the need for contact between security personnel and shoppers, allowing security guards to complete their usual duties, safe in the knowledge that the store is being managed in a COVID-secure way. With a hands-off approach enabled by surveillance technology, the potential for tense confrontation is greatly diminished as customers will usually comply to the reminder shown to them and put on a mask or wait without further prompting from staff. With security personnel able to better focus their attention on the stubborn rule-breakers,It is crucial that retailers choose a solution embedded in real-time connectivity this responsibility will no longer land with staff on the shop floor who are often ill-equipped to deal with this situation. It is crucial that retailers choose a solution embedded in real-time connectivity that will allow all store entrances to be screened simultaneously. Nobody can be in multiple places at once, but this connectivity allows alerts to be streamed instantly to any connected device that can be monitored by just one employee, meaning they can review the alerts that require their attention without needing to be physically present or re-tasked away from their day-to-day duties. Instant reassurance with body worn tech As a customer-facing role, there can be no guarantee that shop workers will never experience a potentially violent confrontation with a customer, which is where the presence of live streaming body worn cameras can help. While they may not always be trained to de-escalate a risky situation, being able to discreetly call for assistance can provide the reassurance employees need to feel safe and supported at all times. If an employee asks a customer to put a mask on while they’re in the store or step back from another shopper and the situation turns abusive – verbally or physically – a live streaming-enabled body worn camera can be triggered to stream a live audio and video feed back to a central control room manned by trained security personnel.A live streaming-enabled body worn camera can be triggered This real-time footage gives security staff exceptional situational awareness, allowing them to fully assess the situation and decide on the best course of action to support the employee in distress, whether that is going to the scene to diffuse the situation or contacting the police in more serious circumstances. Bolstering front line security This goes one step further than record-only body worn cameras, the capabilities of which these next generation devices match and exceed. Record-only cameras are well-suited to provide after-the-fact evidence if a customer interaction turns sour, but they do little to provide reassurance to out of depth employees in the moment. The duty of care grocery retailers must provide to their employees has never been more important, with staff taking on new mask and social distancing enforcement responsibilities and managing interactions with frustrated customers. Bolstering front line security and giving staff extra reassurances with the introduction of real-time video surveillance technology is a crucial step for retailers striving to keep employees and shoppers safe during these challenging times.