Security As A Profit Center: Extorting Shoplifters?

By John Honovich, Published Mar 10, 2015, 12:00am EDT

If you can't beat 'em, join em.

Many lament that security is a cost center. Now, a tech startup and major retailers have partnered to make money off of shoplifters in a most extraordinary and questionably legal manner.

In this note, we examine the system, looking at its pros and cons.

The 'CEC'

The company has a rather innocuous name - the Corrective Education Company - aiming to "continually reform generations and change lives, one day at a time."

The Controversy

Suspected shoplifters are told they can (1) agree to pay CEC $320 and go free immediately or (2) have the cops called on them and risk criminal prosecution. The retailer gets a kickback commission cut for each agreement (estimated at ~$40). The $320 payment ostensibly pays for an "online course designed to make you never want to steal again."

According to Slate, CEC claims that:

"When offenders are apprehended, they are shown a brief video about CEC before they’re sent home, which tells them that if they believe they are innocent, they should obtain legal counsel and fight whatever charges may come. But according to Caffaro, more than 90 percent of people who have been offered the course during CEC’s four years in business have elected to take it."

CEC also claims that the 6 to 8 hour online course:

"Gives them skills and the ability to actually go out and get a job"

The debate centers on whether or not it is fair, ethical and indeed legal for a private entity to make money off a criminal accusation. Alternatively put, is this coercion? So far, CEC says 20,000 people have paid up, with them generating ~$5 million USD.

What Do You Think?

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