Friday, February 25, 2011

I see you

Employee Theft & How to Fight It

Shoplifting, check fraud, employee theft, burglaries, vandalism, holdups,
Purse snatching s, slip-and-fall scams, Workman’s Compensation, and insurance fraud.
It is not a small wonder how anyone can stay in business and make a profit?

You know some days I just shake my head and wonder why any one would even bother to try and open up and run any type of retail business, especially a grocery store.
Recently I worked in an affluent neighborhood where I installed anti-shoplifting cameras.
The owner of the store wanted them in the meat and health/cosmetics aisle where he was experiencing an unusual amount of theft. To my surprise, in the health aisle a young white male was picked up and arrested by the store detective for stealing hemorrhoid cream! What in the world would someone be stealing hemorrhoid cream for?

Well, it turned out that the young man was from the neighborhood and he was a heroin junky, a thief /burglar known to the police. He was stealing the hemorrhoid cream to cover and heal the needle track marks on his arms.

“Heroin in this neighborhood,” I thought to myself; but, like the police who responded and took the young man to jail, they told me that because it was an affluent neighborhood, the kids have more money available so they can afford the more expensive heroin over crack cocaine. In fact, Heroin is a major drug problem in affluent neighborhoods. It, in fact, accounts for 70% of the crimes that occur in these areas.

Now, had this thief gotten away with the goods, it would have cost the store a lot more than $1.85, as stores work on a 1-2% profit margin. Thus, the store would have to sell 184 more tubes of cream to make up for what was stolen.

Shoplifting costs millions annually and accounts for 15/25% shrinkage costs when running a business. Yes there is only a 1-2% profit margin in the grocery business because even though you pay $2.00 for a bag of chips, the store pays $.20. After you figure in wages, rent or mortgage, employees benefits, electric, phone, gas bills, taxes, insurance etc., plus all the money lost to thieves, broken and discarded items, etc, there is only 1-2% left.

I was then working at this same business a month later adding more cameras in the back stock room and store front to help stop groceries from going out the back door. No, not by shoppers, but instead by the employees themselves. Another thing we look for are employees who under price items for their friends as they ring them up on the cash register, such as a $20.00 steak for $0.45—which is the approximate price of a can of soup. The other thing that cameras will do in a retail store setting is to stop the slip-and-fall lawsuit scams.

I heard the screams and protests by store employees who were angry with the owner as well as myself. They said they would damage the cameras I put up, and the owner in writing responded by warning each and every one of them that the consequences of their actions would be termination and prosecution--and there would be no tolerance.

I put the cameras up and several employees, including a manager, almost immediately quit. Amazingly enough, the inside employee theft problem came to an end along with boxes getting damaged and machines breaking and money and groceries disappearing.
Also, there have been no more slip-and-fall problems either.

In another case, I had a restaurant owner ask to upgrade his camera system. He had one in the bar area to record fights and people trying to help themselves to free drinks. He also wanted one outside in a small walkway were he has walk-in coolers to hold extra goods. The problems to solve were 1) he had a situation where employees were loafing, and 2) they were stealing food from the kitchen.

Three weeks after I installed these cameras, I got a horrifying phone call. The owner informed me that he came to work that very morning and found a large pile of dog dodo
outside one of the cooler doors. At first he thought a dog had done it until he cleaned it up. What he found was that it was human waste, napkins and all, which the perpetrator had used to clean him or herself.

The owner went in and rolled back the tape and found that at 7:30 in the morning his bread deliveryman walked down the walkway, dropped his pants, and relieved himself. Even though you could clearly see that the back door of the restaurant was open and he could have used the toilet inside he chose to do his business outside the coolers.

The owner of the restaurant called the bread company, whose owner came and saw the tape and then did nothing to the driver because he was in the Teamster Union. The man should have been terminated and criminally charged, but he wasn’t. He put his unclean hands on the bread delivery bags of every one he delivered to that morning—quite possibly spreading infection with it.

I still remember the day in the 80s I put a hidden camera in a supermarket to catch an employee in the office who was ringing up soda bottle return receipts, putting the money in her pocket. It ended up that she was the Union Steward, so the owners wanted hard evidence against her. She ended up on probation and she had to pay restitution
But she did not lose her job, I was later told, she was sent to a different store and not allowed to work in the office area. Is it any wonder why that grocery chain left town?

Recently I installed another hidden camera in a large school cafeteria were someone was pocketing the cash employees put in a cup under a counter after they bought breakfast. It was only two to three dollars that was missing each day, but over a year’s time this amounted to nearly a thousand dollars. So, enough was enough, and I was hired to come in at 3:00 a.m. and install a covert camera. That very next morning they caught a 73-year-old woman, who was receiving a good pension I might add, besides the excellent money she was making at the school.

Then there is the case of an executive at a Nuclear Power station who I met at one of the Eagle Scout dinners who lost his $150,000.00 a year job when it was discovered he had embezzled $700.00 from an employee benefit fund.

The Thievery Goes On And On

I had a customer of a now defunct, large hardware store who suspected that his own brother was ripping him off. Indeed, as it turned out, he was. What we did was set the alarm system at the warehouse he owned so the brothers code would not work. Instead it would trip a silent alarm so the police, who were aware of what we had done, would respond. They arrived to find that the brother with several appliances loaded into a truck ready to steal them.

I have used this and the trick of recording alarm activations and deactivations to catch many inside theft problems. For example, in a dark room facility I had set up the alarm so all codes etc. would be recorded, as well as all out-going phone calls. We suspected things were gong on in the business and, as it turned out, we were correct.

We caught employees coming back after work and using film and darkroom supplies and running the lab for personal work. They also were making personal long distance phone calls on the lab’s telephones. Of course, after they were caught they could not figure out why they were being prosecuted. After all, everyone steals from their employer, so they told me. What was the problem? Also, they stole because they were not being paid what they were worth, and this is how they justified it in their own minds. The court did not agree, however.

I had a distant relative of mine tell me the same thing when I saw all the stuff he had taken from a now-closed steel mill where he worked. Over the years, millions of dollars have been stolen from such steel mills, not only by the workers, but also by their bosses. They were able to do this because they had ready access--they were able to their vehicles into the mill. I have had customers who had large, expensive multi-gang electric meters stolen off the side walls of apartment complexes, as well as air conditioner condenser’s, taken while these projects were in construction.

I had one of my customers who bought an old pizza shop in the north side of Pittsburgh decide to tear it down and build a new building. When we called Duquesne Light to come and disconnect the electric meter, we were surprised to find that the meter continued to run the shop while it sat half empty. This must have gone on for five years with only a few lights left on and an occasional workman. Evidently a business near the same location had been illegally stealing power all those years after there own electric meter was shut off and removed.

I remember the time with the fire department and the police rolled up to a natural gas leak at an apartment complex. The occupants told us how one of the tenants rigged up an illegal power tap to steal electricity. He had taken an un-fused extension cord and attached it to the power line coming into the building. Many fatal fires have started this way and many firefighters have been injured over such people stealing power. Then, of course, there’s my neighbor who thought it was okay to steal HBO from the cable company--until he was busted--twice, in fact.

And of course look at all the music CDs being copied and stolen along with DVD movies. All in all, it adds up to billions of dollars lost. This is why all of us pay higher prices for these commodities. There needs to be a clear message to all thieves, petty or otherwise, that this is wrong and must stop. Otherwise, society will continue to degrade to the point where lawlessness will rule our everyday lives.

Often times the thief who steals from his or her employer is also likely stealing elsewhere. Many criminals are habitual by nature and are involved in constant crimes of all kinds. For example, the thief who steals cars and shoplifts may also be doing illegal drugs. He may also be stealing from his or her neighbors.

When a crime spree hits a business district, there are almost always one to two gangs involved. The worst part is, many times those we trust are involved. The state constable and his son in my community are now under arrest, charged with receiving stolen property and several other charges. The son also is facing cocaine dealing charges as they were both supposedly involved in a 40+ smash-and-grab burglary ring in the community as well as neighboring towns for over four years. It infuriates me because I have done work at several of the properties this man owns.

As the situation continues to worsen, poor economic conditions is being blamed for the brunt of these crimes in Pennsylvania. It has been said that if people had good-paying jobs, we would not see all of these crimes. Somehow the officials continue to get it wrong for this is not the case Good times or bad, you will always have crime. However, the more that a community tolerates this crime, using "social problems" as the cause, the worse it will get.

We need to take a strong stand against criminals. But, it appears that many in positions of responsibility are content to sit back and do nothing, other than complain. The next time you get ripped off, or you want to complain about the high prices you pay in the retail stores you shop at, remember this. Shoplifters need jail time and rehabilitation with meaning, as well as all other criminals. If they come out and start their criminal ways again, then off to prison they go for life, as they are no longer contributing to society--just taking from honest people and hurting all concerned.

What we need is to start the process of teaching our children honesty in our public schools, as well as the home. We need to show our children the result of stealing and vandalism and all the other crimes that occur in and about society. Thievery is wrong and our children must be taught that there are penalties for doing so.

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