Retail Surveillance Operator Secrets Revealed

By: Carlton Purvis, Published on Aug 01, 2013

What's it like to be a surveillance operator? What problems do they face? How do they do their job?

We interviewed one with extensive experience at major retailers, both in management and operations.

Here are some of the key topics and lessons covered:

  • The 4 must-have elements of stopping a suspected shoplifter
  • The 5 top shoplifting scams faced
  • The hardest part of using cameras: remembering this information
  • Effective camera positions including using moveable cameras
  • Searching Footage and the issues they faced
  • Ranking the type of loss and why shrink is not number one
  • How surveillance differs between big box stores and warehouse store/cubs
  • How shoplifters are investigated
  • Tools being phased out including a very popular security category
  • ****'* ** **** ***** ************ ********? **** problems ** **** ****? How ** **** ** their ***?

    ** *********** *** **** extensive ********** ** ***** retailers, **** ** ********** and **********.

    **** *** **** ** the *** ****** *** lessons *******:

    • *** * ****-**** ******** of ******** * ********* shoplifter
    • *** * *** *********** scams *****
    • *** ******* **** ** using *******: *********** **** information
    • ********* ****** ********* ********* using ******** *******
    • ********* ******* *** *** issues **** *****
    • ******* *** **** ** loss *** *** ****** is *** ****** ***
    • *** ************ ******* ******* big *** ****** *** warehouse *****/****
    • *** *********** *** ************
    • ***** ***** ****** *** including * **** ******* security ********

    [***************]

    Key *******

    ****'* * ******* ** the ******** ** *** into *****:

    • ********* *** ***** ** cameras *** *** ******* part ** ***** *** surveillance ******.
    • ***** ** ******* ***** be ***** ** *******, each ***** **** *** too ***** ** ** usable.
    • ********* *** ******* *** problematic *** ***** **** half * *****
    • **** *** ***** **** a *** *******, ********* shoplifting *** * '*****'
    • ***** ***** ******** ***** was * ****** **********.
    • ********* ****** *** ************* less ************ *** ***** than ******* ****** ******.
    • ********* ***** ***** *********** by ******* **** **** have ****** *********** **** they ** ***
    • *** ************ ******** **** keep **** ** ***** with *** *********** ******* or **** **'* '**** over'
    • *** *** ******** *** being ****** ***.

    Daily *********

    **** ********** *********** ** most ***** ********* ******* of * ******* *** two **********. *** ******* works ** “**** *******” investigations (*********, ******** *****, investigations ** ********** *********). The ********** ***** ***** time ******* ******* *** floor (***** ** *********), monitoring ******* *** ******* investigations (********* ******** *** claims *** *********** *********).

    *** ******** **** *** video ************ ****** *** easy ** *** **** he ******** ** ***** a ***** ** *** job. 

    “*** ******* **** *** remembering **** *** ***** are *******,” ** ****. ***** were ** ********** **-****** maps ** ************ *** key. 

    “** *** **** *** labeled ****, ***** ***** point-of-sale, *** **** ** know ***** **** ** in *** ***** ** you **** ***** ***’** looking.  ********* **** ***’** against *** ***** *** you **** ** *********** something ******* ** *** need ** **** ** shots ** ***** ********, when ***** *** *** different ***** *** ***’* remember **** *** ** first. *** **** *** work ** ** ******, the **** ** ******* second ******.  

    “** *** **** ***** 16 ***** ** ** one ****, *** *** size ** *** ******* are *** ***** ** get * *** ** detail ** ***** *****. We ***** ********* **** 16 ** *** ********, but **’* ******* **** have * *** **** shots ** ** * time.” 

    *** *** ********** **** often ****** *** ******* walking *** ***** *** monitoring *** ******* ** break ** *** **** spent ******* ** *******. Camera ****** *** ********** honed ****** *** ********. 

    “***’** ******** ***** ***** are *** **** **** to *** ** **** main *****, *** ***’** constantly ***** **** ****** to ******, ******** ***** hands ** **** ****’** doing. **** ****’** *** suspicious, *** *********** **** to *** **** ******,” he ****. 

    *** ****** ******** **** directs *** ****** ** the ***** ** ********** activity. “*** *******, ** you *** * ***** group ** ******* ***** walking ****** *** ******* section **** *** ****, you’d ***** *** ****** on *** ***** ** head ** **** *********.”

    *** ** **** ** also *********** *** **** compliance ** ***** ** the ***** **** *** looking *** *** *****, making **** ***** ******** are *******, ******** ***** or ********* ******** *** checking **** ************.

    Maintenance *** *******

    *** **** ***********, *** loss ********** ********** ** responsible *** ***** *********** and ******** *** *******. Each ***** *** * limited ** **********, *** technical ******** **** ************ systems *** *** ****** installations *** ******* ** local ***********.

    Camera ********* *** *****

    * “*****” ***** *** around *** ******* **** set *********:

    • **** ******* ******
    • **** ***** ***** *********** (jewelry, ***********)
    • *********/*****
    • **** ******** (**** ****** with *** ******)
    • ********** **********

    *** ***** ******* *** movable ********** *** ***** as ******. ******* *** not ******* ** **** fitting ***** ** *** areas ****** **** *** considered ***** *****. ** was ** ** *** dressing **** ********** ** be ********* *** **** sure ****** **** *** with **** **** **** in. 

    ***** * ******* ** every ******, ** ****** the **** ** *** store, ******** ** ******** cameras. “**** **** *** necessarily ** ******* ******, they **** **** *** tracking. *** **** ** know **** *******, [* suspect] *** ** *** where **** **** *****. The **** ** [********* in ****** ******] *** the ********** ** **** in ** **** ******* plates.”

    ** ****** ******* *** investigations:

    “***** *** ** ******** sneaking ******** **** *** janitor’s ****** *** ** knew ***** **, *** we ****** ** *** it ****** ** ** took * ****** ** installed ** ** *** janitor’s ****** ***********. **** we ****** *** ******, we ****’* **** **** shot ******* *** ** moved ** ********* ****.”

    Searching *******

    ***** *** ** ***** way ** ****** ******* in *** ** *** stores. ** *** ** team ******** * ****** of ** ******** **** would ******** ****** *******. He **** ** ****** investigations ** ***** ***** half ** * ***** searching ******* **** ** verify ** ******* ***** of ********. *******, ** the ******** *** ** do **** * *** then **** ***** *****-********* the *****. ****** ****** in *** *********** *** starting ** ***** ** software **** ****** ********* tracking *** ********* *******.

    Employee ***** **. *********** **. ******

    *** ******* **** ********* used ** ***** ****** made ******* *** *****. “The *********** ****** ***** about *********,” ** ****. “Being **** ** *** them *** *********** ** more **** ** ***** bonus **** * ******* reason.” ** *******, * successful ***** ***** ****** for ***** $**,*** *** at *** *****, **** and **** ****** **** prevalent. 

    “** *** * ***** a ****** ****** * month ** * *******. People ***** *** **** got *** ** * cart, ** **** * cart *** ***** ***, or **** **** *** their *** ******** *** the ***** ****** *** blamed *** **********. ** even *** ****** *** to ***** ******* ******* they **** ******* **** a ***** ***** **** another **** *** **** in *** ****.” ****** busier ******** *******, *** location ********* ***** ** much **** ********** ****** as ** *** *********** shoplifters.

    *** ** ******* ***** regularly **** ******** ***** on ** ******** ******** board. ****** ******* *** around ** ******* ** losses. At *****, ******** ***** was ** **** ** 50 ******* ** ****. These ******* *** ********** with ******* **** *** National ****** ********** ************ ******** ***** ** retail ****** ** ** percent** ******. *** *** says ****** ** ****** 35 *******.

    “***** ********** ***** * lot ******* **’* * lot ****** *** ****, but ** ********** ***** them ******* ** * store, ******** ** ****** snitching ** ********,” ** said.

    ***** ****** **** *** worst *** ******** ***** and *** ***** *** the *** ** *** region *** ********* ******** from *** **** ******.

    “**** *** *** ** the ******* ****** ** catch. ** ******* **** into * ****** *** is ***** ********* **** their *****, ** *** assume **** **** ********* but **’* *** ****** to ****** ****. **** the ****** ******’* **** cases **** ****. **** wanted ******* **** ***** give **** ********** ************. We *** ******** ****** shots ** *** ****** but ****** **** **** of ******* *** ***** spots. **** **, ** started ******** ****. ********** people ***** **** ***** the ******* ***** ** the ***** *******. ****** at ********* *** **** the ******* ***’* ****** catch ****** **** ***** grab **** ** **** enough ******* **** ** couldn’t *** *** **** if **** **** **.”

    *** ******** ****** ****** did *** ****** **** ******* where *** ****** ***** were, *** *** * good **** ** *** to ***** ***** ***** with ***** ****** ** other *****. 

    **** ** *** ******* were **** *** ******** intelligence ** ****** ********* that ** ***** **.  

    Retail ***** **. ********* ******/*****

    **** *** *** **** differences ** ******* ** a ********* ***** **. retail *****:

    • ************* **** *******
    • ****** ** **** *** fall/other ******
    • **** ********** ********** ** a ****** ******

    **** ******** ** ******, he ****, ******* ****** do *** ********* *** to ***** **** ***** and *** ******** *** checked ** *** ****. The *********** ** **** more ********** **** *** regular ****** ******.

    Quality ** ********* ******** ** *** **** ** *** *****

    ********* **** ***** ****** are ***** ******* ** to ****** ****** ** assist **** ***** ***** investigations. **** *** **** of *** ************:

    ** ****** ** ***** towns *** ********* *** older, **** **** ********* problems *** ***** ******* images.

    *** ****** ** ****** cities ****** *** ** were ******* **:

    • ****** ********
    • ******* **** ********* ********
    • ****** ******* **** **** capability ** **** ** on ******* ******

    Shoplifting *****

    ** ****** ** *** largest ****** ** *** state. *** **** ****** organized ****** ***** ***** involved **** ***** *** tag *********, *** **** are **** ***** ***** surveillance ******* ****** *** biggest ****.

    ****-***

    *********** ***** *** *** push-out ** ***** * large ****** ** *******, using **** ******** ***** as *****. **** **** a **** **** ****** items (** **** * whole ***** ** ***** into *** ****) *** walk *** *** **** without ******, ********* ******* a **** *******. ** some ***** **** **** use ** ********* **** instead, ******* *** ***** into * ******* *** before ****** ********* *** determine ***** **** ***** is ***** *** *** pull ** *** ******. 

    ******** ****

    * **** ** ************ shoplifters ******* ***** ******** was ******* ****** ** the **** *********. *** would ******* ** ** a ******* *** *** other ** ********* *** they ***** ***** ***** from **** ********* ***** a ******** *** **** obtained *******. ******** ******* at *** ** *** stores ******** ******* ***** data *** ************ **** led ****** ** ****. Wearing ***** ******** ** a ****** ****** ** gain ****** ** ********** and ******* *** *** back ****. ***** ***** of ***** ******* ****** when *** ***** ****** of ****** *** ** the ******** (***** ** the ******* ** **** at *****).

    **** ********

    ************ *********** ****** ******* lots *** ********* ********, then **** *** ***** on *** ******* ** the ***** *** ******* refunds. **** ****** ********, shoplifters **** * **** with *** **** ***** on * ******* *** walk ***. **** ** where **** ******** ****** step **, *** ******** we *********** ****. “****’** supposed ** ** ******** the ***** ** *** receipts ** **** *** suspicious, *** ***** ****’** older ** **** ***’* want ** ****** ****** so **** ***’*.”

    *** *** ***

    ** **** ******** *** actually ***** ********, ***** is *** “*** *** one.” * ****** ************ purchases * **** ****** item, * **** ****** TV, *** *******. ** they ***** *** ***** they ******** **** *** the ******* ** ******* shoplifter *** ***** ** identical ** **** * cart *** ***** ***, showing *** ******* *** same *******.

    ******* ****

    **** ******* **** * person ************ **** * suitcase ** *********, *** loads ** **** ***** merchandise. ** **** ***** the ******** ** *** register ** ** ** the **** *** **** not ***** ******. **** is * **** *** to ***** ** ***** is ** ******* ** the ********** ******* *** suitcase.

    Investigations **********

    ***** ** ********, *** LP **** ***** ********** witnesses **** ******* ******* to **** **** ********** matches. *** **** ***** burn ** ***** *** copies ** ** ******** (one ** ******* *** one *** ******).

    “*** ***** ***** *** police ***** **** ** soon ** **** ******* is ** *** *** footage. **** **** ** make **** *** ******** is **** *** ********* they *** ***.”

    ** *** ******** *** not ****** ** ***** charges ** *** ******* was *** ******, *** store ***** ****** * file *** *** *******. If **** **** *** caught *** ***** ****, they ******* **** ** the *****.

    ***** ******** **** * store ***** *****, *** camera ********* ***** **** a ****** ***** ****, their ******* *** ****** items. ** **** ** the ******* ******** ** the ***** *** ****** operator ***** ***** ******** them. **** **** *****, a ********** **** ******. With ***** ********* ** the **********’* ********, ****** operators *** ****** ********. ****** could *** *********** ** confess ** ***** **** using **** ******* **** may *** **** **** good ****** ** *** own.

    “**** ** ** ***’* have ****** ******** *** prior ******, ** ***** call *** ****** *** each *** ** **** that ***** *****. ** nothing ****, **’* ****** have ****** ***** **** shots **** **** **** went ** *** *** the ****.”

    ** ******** ***** ********* bluff *********** ****** *** store **** ****** *********** software ** ******* ** they **** ****, *** “there ** ** ******** database ** **** **** these ****** **** ****. We **** ** ** memory *** ****** **** the ******* ** *** door.”

    Four ******** ** * ******** * ********* **********

    • *** **** ** *** a ********** **** ** item
    • *** **** ** *** them ******* *** ****
    • *** **** ** ******** line-of-sight ***** **** *** ready ** *****
    • **** **** ** **** past *** ***

    *** ** ******* ******* every ****** *** ***** four ********. ** ********* can ** ***** *** a *** **** *** shoplifters **** ****. **** have * **** *** it: * ******** ****.

    “**** **** ** ** break ****-**-*****, **’* **** over. **** *** ***** like, ‘*** ***’* **** me. * **** ** the ********’” **** ********** would *** *** ****** go ** **** *****. In **** *****, ********** under ******** ** **** numbers ***** ***** *** person.

    “*’** **** **** **** to ** ******** ******* about ****** * *** stop, *** ******* ** those ***** **** **** able ** *** *** person ** ***** ****** merchandise,” ** ****.

    ****-**-***** *** ** ************ with *** ******* ** by *** ****** ** the ****** ** * combination ** ****. *** example ** ******* ***** past ******** *****, **** lose ****-**-***** **** *** cameras, *** * ****** on *** ***** *** follow **** ******* *** department. 

    Loss ********** ***** ***** ****** ***

    **** ********** ***** ** phasing *** *** ******** because ** * ***** amount ** ******** ********** about ****** ** **** receipts. ** **** ******** were * *** **** because ** **** **** suspicious ** * ******* they ***** **** **** up ** *** ****** and ********* ***** **** to ***** *** ****** into *** ******* ***.

    **** *** ******* *** EAS ******* *** *** same ******. “***** ***** five ***** ***. ** you **** ** * store **** ****** ***’* hear *** ** ***. You ***’* **** **** go *** *******. ***’** still *** **** ** a *** ** ****** but *** ******** ** them *** *********** ***,” he ****. “***** **** just *** **** ***** alarms. **** **** *** off ** * *** of ******, ********* *** own ******. ********* ***** to ******** **** ***’** stopping **** *** **** haven’t **** ********.”

    ** **** **** **********, there ** ***** ******** for ***** ****** ******* to **** *** **** or *** ******, ** says. *** ****** ******* were ****** ** ** employee ******** *****. **** they *****’* * *** of ********* ******, ***** managers ***** ******** *** much **** *** ** department *** ******** *****, not ********* *** ***** of *** ***.

Comments (13)

Great article! So many to read now and so little time lol.

Superb article, thanks.

One of the best articles I've ever read on IPVM.

Thanks.

Excellent article - from the varied description of the departments it sounds like a Mass Merchandise chain

In my experiences with retail all of the shoplifting scams he described were familiar except the Register Key. Most of the POS / Registers systems require log in information in addition to the key for the drawer. This would lend itself even more to being an inside job.

The key problem I've seen is for lock up product on the floor (video games / ipods etc.) where an employee slips the key off has a duplicate made for the case and gives that to an accomplice who then opens the case and steals the merchandise

The phasing out of EAS is no surprise. Mass Merchandise, Drug stores, DIY have been waving customers through for years. Originally those systems were somewhat effective in deterring amateurs or impulse shoplifters, but worthless against professionals using booster bags or snatch and run.

One of the major players in the industry just sold their video and alarm group to focus just on EAS and Tagging solutions. Maybe they should have talked to their customers first

I also agree that this is one of the best IPVM articles.

Good Job , Appreciate the article

John, this is a great article. I worked retail LP for a short time before I started working in CCTV, and this sums up my experience pretty well. I worked a low volume store, and for a while I was the only LP at the store so I didn't have the benefit of someone looking at the video communicating with me.

Back then the POS system wasn't tied to the video system, so looking for the video of a particular transaction was time consuming. But that might also be becuase we were using time-lapse VCRs at the time.

Very good article. Coming from a casino Surveillance background and now working in Macau where there are dozens of Operators a shift and a seperate security department it illustrates the differences in approach very well.

Great article! Thank you, IPVM!

Excellent information. It would be very advantageous to get this kind of information for other verticals where video surveillance is being used: hospitals, residential/public buildings, safe city operations, hotels, etc.

I'm curious how the LP boyz battle return fraud and gift card fraud...

The register (POS) theft attacks were made easier for a time by IBM who keyed every register drawer lock manufactured to the same key cut! :-)

Good insight, the operator was dead on in every way. Slip & fall claims are the primary driver for video deployment in big box retail and it generates a substantial ROI for the merchant.

Another tactic that I've seen that is pretty hard to combat (some of the LP guys call it "team scatter"), involves 4-6 individuals separating within the store. A typical run with this method has those 4-6 (occasionally more) coming in, usually 2 taking carts, and they head for the liquor or beer section. They all load up on alcohol and then scatter nonchalantly. Usually 1 or 2 will head to the checkout area; sometimes as the ‘legitimate’ decoy, but just as often may not actually checkout. The rest of the crew heads for the door, staggering their exit times. If any get approached, they either ditch the product and flee, or try to play it off as a mistake and head for the checkout. Unless you have a sizable LP team, at least 1 or 2 are making it out the door.

Your source says a “small” store would have 200 cameras based on his experience; based on some of the descriptions I would assume this is one of the giant national retailers. My experience, with regional chains, has been that smaller stores have more like 16-32; and larger stores might push up to 100 cameras. Granted my experience is not with any giant chain retailers, but 200 cameras at a “small” store seem unlikely to be typical.

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