Store Employee Explains How They Stole

By Carlton Purvis, Published Jan 20, 2014, 12:00am EST

In 2004, Lauren started work at a large CVS in a Washington, D.C. suburb. She says she really needed the job after being unemployed for a while. But after a month on the job, a coworker turned her on to ways she could give friends free merchandise discreetly. Employee theft is the leading cause of shrink at retail stores, according to research from the National Retail Federation. They attribute 44 percent of losses to employees.

What the coworker didn’t warn her about was the three surveillance cameras watching the front of the store and her register. This interview is another installment of our series examining surveillance cases from the other side of the lens, from the perspective of the people who got caught.

How She Did It

  • She would give friends items at different prices by scanning a lower priced item at the register.
  • If a customer paid cash and used exact change, she would immediately void/refund the transaction and pocket the money.
  • She would let friends fill a cart with items but only scan every other item.
  • As a friend was leaving she would grab and item and say “Oh, you forgot this!” and hand it to them as they walked out the door

Some of these techniques she came up with on her own, others were introduced to her by a coworker one month into the job. Lauren says the coworker never got caught doing it so she suspects she was set up.

“My coworker told me those worked, and I was stupid enough to listen to them and I did the same thing. I’m the one that got caught. I don’t know if they were telling me that to set me up to get fired, but that's what happened,” she said. Even though the coworker was well versed in scamming, she only coached other people on how to do it. Lauren says she never saw the coworker steal.

After running scams successfully several times, she let her guard down and got bolder.

“I thought I was doing it too much, but then after I never got caught I said, ‘Fuck it, I may as well keep doing it.’ I was doing it for so long that if they were going to catch me or if they had cameras they should have caught me by then,” she said. Seven months into the job she had been stealing inventory for six of them.

Missing Money Led to Suspicion

She finally got caught after her register kept coming up short at the end of her shifts. When she first started stealing out of the register, it would be a few dollars here and there. But as she got bolder, she would take larger amounts of money. Loss prevention started its investigation after her register came up short three times for large amounts.

“One day the manager came to me and said to close my line down and to come upstairs. When I went upstairs they had the loss prevention person there. She said she’d been watching me, and she’d seen everything I did. I couldn’t deny it,” Lauren said. She admitted to stealing money and giving away merchandise to her manager and the loss prevention team (read about retail theft from the perspective of a loss prevention team) while they played back “at least 10” clips of her slipping items in people’s bags or failing to scan items and stealing money.

“I was even giving cigarettes away,” she said. They had shots of her from three different views: One right at the register, one covering the front of the store and another angle covering the doorway.

After she admitted to stealing, the police arrived, and she was arrested and taken to jail straight from CVS where she stayed until her court date. She was given two years probation and ordered to pay $4800 in restitution. She says that is around the amount of merchandise and money she stole. She is also barred from entering any CVS for life.

Because there was no set payment plan, she says she just finished paying back the $4800 this year.

Perception of Surveillance

Lauren said she never had a chance to go back and see where the cameras were, but she doesn't remember ever seeing any cameras in the store. She says she always notices cameras now so "there's no telling how many more are hidden."

"You see a lot more cameras now [in general] than you did back then," she said.  The arrest happened back in 2004. "This means now you have to be a lot more skeptical and watch what you're doing at all times, because those cameras are everywhere. I don't trust them not to be."

CVS Says

CVS wouldn't answer any questions specific to loss prevention and technology, but emailed this statement.

"CVS/pharmacy has stringent policies and procedures and state-of-the-art loss prevention technology in place to detect and prevent theft in its stores, whether it is by internal or external parties. Employees are also required to abide by the company's code of conduct and internal diversion of any kind is not tolerated. We do not comment on our security policies and procedures because we do not want to undermine them."

The pharmacy company may not be using the same technology today as it was in 2004 as there are new technologies available like POS integration and exception-based recording, but would she have been caught faster with newer technology? Ultimately, Lauren says she thinks another employee tipped off management about her scheme. She says it could have gone on much longer if no one told.

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