Retailers brace for more crime as economy worsensWritten by Rosie Lombardi 06 January 2009
Hard times tend to bring out more crime, particularly in the retail sector.
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Many people who would not normally engage in theft are driven to it during economic downturns. British studies conducted in previous recessions revealed the underlying psychology, says Bob Davies, program facilitator for the fraud examination and forensic studies program at Toronto’s Seneca College.
“As their sense of helplessness grows, some people strain to close the gap between their resources and their aspirations. This removes moral boundaries and rationalizations set in: ‘I’m not taking much – Wal-Mart can afford it.’”
While the recession hasn’t hit Canada as hard as the U.S. yet, some retailers say they’re already seeing its effects. “We’re starting to see an increase in the numbers of incidents,” says Bill Cowper, loss prevention manager at the Nova Scotia Liquor Corp., adding this uptick began in September.
New customer issues
While high-end luxury items such as jewelery are always popular targets for theft, downscale categories become more prevalent during downturns. “What we see is an increased focus on essentials such as food, children’s clothing and other items associated with basic needs,” says Peter Martin, president of AFI International, a crisis management and security investigations firm based in Milton, Ont.
Another key feature of downturns is reductions in staff, which can create a double whammy for retailers: more people than usual are driven to commit thefts but there are fewer employees on the sales floor to deter them. “We’re seeing opportunists taking advantage of our staffing levels in our stores,” says Cowper. “And we’re seeing a lot of people we haven’t seen before involved in incidents.”
To cope with these scenarios, loss prevention (LP) professionals need to expand their criminal profiles during downturns beyond the usual suspects, says Martin. “I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone into an organization, and it was the 50-year-old lady stealing, not the 17-year-old kid with his pants hanging down his butt. Don’t just look at kids, look at the guy in the suit – he may be putting it on every morning but he lost his job and hasn’t told his family.”
Some simple psychological gambits can go a long way to deterring theft, says Tim Dimoff, president of Cleveland-based SACS Consulting and Investigative Services Inc. “Retailers need to train their staff to make eye contact and conversation with anyone who comes in. That personal contact alone has been proven to be a strong deterrent, because the person isn’t a faceless nobody anymore.”
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