Crime Prevention & Safety for Businesses
The appearance of a business can attract or deter crimes of many natures. The following are some steps that can help make your business more secure:
- Maintain the property. A rundown business or building with attract criminals, so make sure that the building, the landscaping, the sidewalks and the parking areas are all clean and well-maintained.
- Do not keep old or damaged displays, posters or signs that are no longer useful to you.
- Have the checkout counter near the front of the store, so that employees can monitor activities inside and outside the store.
- Clearly mark public and private areas and make private areas hard to access for non-employees.
- Clearly mark parking areas and entrances to the business.
- Keep trees near the building well-trimmed and secure fire escape ladders so that they cannot be used to access the roof.
- Do not use large displays or posters that would cover the windows.
- Keep the building, especially the rear, well-lit at night.
- Loading areas should be kept clean and free of large objects that could hide people.
- Make sure that all entrances to the business are under constant visual surveillance.
- Install an alarm system.
Besides the suggestions above, there are more steps you can take to make your business more secure against burglary.
- The best protection against burglary is visibility - well-lit and open spaces will dissuade burglars from targeting your business.
- When closing your business for the evening, empty out your cash drawer, and leave it open, so that they can be seen from outside to be empty.
- Use deadbolts with a minimum 1-inch bolt with a saw-resistant insert on all exterior doors.
- Pin the hinges of exterior doors that swing out, so that the door cannot be lifted off the hinges.
- Make sure that exterior doors are solid core, and protect any glass with polycarbonate sheets, bars or roll-down covers.
- If you are considering installing or upgrading an alarm system, consider the following options:
- Panic button - in case of robbery
- Monitored alarm - if the alarm is activated, law enforcement is contacted
- Keep a complete and up-to-date inventory of your merchandise and store equipment, and keep a copy in a location away from your business.
In the event that your business does get burglarized:
- Call law enforcement immediately (911)
- Do not enter the premises, as the burglar might still be there
- Do not open the business, or allow anyone inside until the police arrive, as evidence may be accidentally destroyed.
There are several types of fraud that you can help prevent:
- This type of fraud is usually associated with bad cheques and credit cards. To prevent this type of loss, always ask for a piece of primary identification (i.e. driver's license) when accepting these forms of payment.
Credit Card Fraud
- Establish internal procedures for accepting credit card payments, and how to check for stolen cards.
- Ask for a primary piece of identification, to help determine if the card belongs to the individual making the purchase, and take note of the following signs that could indicate that the card is stolen:
- The card has been altered in any way.
- The card has expired, or is not yet valid.
- The signature on the back of the card does not match the one on the sales slip.
- If you suspect that a card may be stolen, call the credit card company for authorization and indicate your suspicions.
- If the card turns out to be stolen, explain to the customer that there has been a problem getting authorization, and that you need to keep the card - if the customer becomes abusive, call the police.
- To prevent credit card numbers and names from being used to make false credit cards, always destroy carbon copies from credit card invoices or the merchant roll of the invoice printer when you have finished book keeping.
- Again, internal policies should be set up for accepting payments with personal cheques.
- Require valid primary identification
- Only accept cheques that are imprinted with the name, address, and bank account number of the customer.
- Limit the cheque to the amount of the purchase (i.e. don't give out cash in exchange of a cheque).
- Do not accept cheques with alterations, or that are post dated.
- If you are unsure of a cheque, call the bank to verify that the name and account numbers match.
- Make your refund policy clear to customers by putting up a sign or notice by the cash register.
- Issue cash refunds only with the original receipt.
- Consider offering an exchange only policy.
- These are schemes designed to defraud manufacturers, suppliers, or distributors of their merchandise. Con artists will set up a fake company or use an existing one they just purchased, and then proceed to buy materials and goods on credit, only to vanish without a trace. Watch for the following:
- A new customer orders unusually large amounts of merchandise on credit.
- Business references for a customer cannot be verified.
- A sudden change in your customer's management staff without notice.
- The customer's payments start to lag behind.
- A company suddenly increases its orders for no apparent reason.
- If you notice any of these changes, do the following:
- Get to know the new management of the company.
- Do a thorough credit check.
- Make sure that new orders are not filled until the credit check is complete.
It is possible for a business to loose more to employee theft, than to shoplifting, burglary, and robbery combined. Below are some of the ways in which employees can steal from a business:
Embezzlement and Theft
It can start out small, with things like taking office supplies, or using the company car or office equipment for personal use, but it can easily escalate. Watch for:
- Rewritten records, so that they "look neater".
- An increase in the number of stock shortages.
- Employees who refuse a vacation or promotion.
- A change in business patterns when a certain employee is away.
- Errors in monthly statements, and complaints by customers.
- A decrease in profits.
- Employees who seem overly sensitive to routine questions about procedures.
Some of the tricks that dishonest employees use are listed below:
- A cashier can ring up a lower price on an item to conceal their theft from the till, or they may overcharge a customer and keep the difference.
- An employee purposely damages stock so that they can buy them at a reduced price
- An employee may hide stock in trash bins, and collect it later.
- An employee may save discarded customer receipts and use them to show that stolen goods were "paid for"
To prevent this type of theft:
- Do frequent stock checks and thorough inventory control. Conduct unexpected checks as well.
- Limit employee access to stock and inventory records.
- Periodically check trash bins, nooks and crannies, and infrequently used rooms. Trash removal should be done at specified times, by a designated employee.
Computers are now used in almost every business for checkout, billing, inventory records and payrolls, and can also be used to commit theft, larceny, embezzlement and fraud. Below are some tips to prevent your computers from being misused:
- Have a secure login to your computer so that only authorized users have access.
- Separate administrator and user functions.
- Minimize after-hours access of the computers.
- Monitor and log computer activity.
Bribery and Kickbacks
It can start out small and innocent, when an employee accepts a gift in exchange for a favour or special treatment, but it can mean big trouble in the future. Watch for the following signs:
- Employees in charge of purchasing use one supplier despite a policy of rotating suppliers.
- Employees frequently associate with vendors or suppliers.
- Employees receive gifts such as ticks to sports events
- Reputable businesses refuse to submit bids
Preventing Internal Theft
- Have strict hiring practices, and contact all references and former employers.
- Have clear and strict policies on theft and accepting bribes.
- Set a good example - don't take supplies or equipment for personal use, or without paying for it.
- Maintain a high level of morale. Employees who are happy to work in your business, and who are treated fairly will take pride in the business, and will be much less likely to steal from you.
- Get to know your employees and ask them for suggestions on how to improve their work environment.
- Keep you salaries competitive, and consider a profit sharing program.
If someone threatens you with a weapon and demands money, give it to them - never refuse a robber!
Below are a few tips on how to prevent robbery:
- Do not work alone. If you are alone, turn on a TV or radio in a back room so that potential robbers think that someone is with you.
- Do not make bank deposits at the same time every day, rather vary them, so that no one can predict your schedule. Keep minimal cash in the drawer, so that if you are robbed, your loss is minimized.
- Arrange your store so that the cash register is visible to passers by, and a potential robber would be seen from the street. Do not block the windows with posters that could block visibility from the street.
- Put up clear signs that the safe required a secondary key that is not on the premises.
- If you do not have one, install a security alarm, and consider getting one with a panic button. Advertise that you have an alarm with clearly visible stickers. Make sure that your employees know how and when to use the panic button.
- Talk to other stores in your area. Agree on keeping an eye on each other's stores or buildings and to watch any suspicious activity.
- Paint or stick a series or markings by the door at 1 foot increments so that it is easier to estimate a robber's height as he leaves.
- Record the serial number of the bottom bill in each drawer, and instruct employees not to use these bills.
- Consider keeping "bait money" in a compartment of the cash register. The bills should be separated by face value, and the serial numbers recorded, so that they can be given to law enforcement officers if you are robbed.
If you are being robbed:
- The most important rule if someone is threatening you with a weapon is to comply with their demands.
- If you have a silent alarm and can activate it without being noticed, do so, otherwise wait until the robber has left.
- Try to signal other employees with a pre-arranged signal, but avoid any sudden moves.
- Try to get a good look at the suspect, so you can give a description to police officers.
After a robbery:
- Call 911
- Immediately after calling the police, write down everything you can remember about the incident, and a description of the robber, including:
- Colour of hair and eyes
- Identifying features such as scars, tattoos, accent or anything unusual
- Try to get a look at the escape vehicle and license plate numbers, and the direction of travel
- Keep everyone away from surfaces or objects the robber may have touched.
A shoplifter is a person who steals goods from a store while pretending to be a customer. Shoplifting can be done in one of two ways:
- By concealing an item and walking out of the store
- By keeping an item in plain view and walking out of the store
In either case, it means a financial loss to the businesses they target.
There are several types of behaviours that shoplifters will exhibit, and a variety of techniques they will use to carry out their crime.
When honest customers shop, they will generally look at items, check the price and size, in an attempt to decide if they want, need, or can afford the item. Shoplifters don't generally exhibit this type of behaviour, instead of looking at the merchandise, they will look around for the store cameras and employees, in an attempt to avoid them. Some shoplifters will wear sunglasses inside the store to disguise the fact that they are not looking at items. If a shoplifter is offered service by an employee, they will generally give a vague answer like "just looking, thanks" in the hope that the employee will leave them alone to go about their business.
The following are several techniques that shoplifters will use to steal merchandise:
- Padding items: This method involves stuffing extra items into boxes or bags of items they intend to purchase. If the items are found by the cashier, the shoplifter generally claims that they didn't know the items were in there, and refuse to pay for them.
- Using their children: Some parents will use their children to get away with a crime. Parents may use their infant's stroller to conceal items. Merchandise can be easily tucked around or under the infant and covered with a blanket, or hidden in diaper bags or the folds of a folding canopy. Parents can also use small children to carry items out of a store, either by handing the merchandise to the child, or even directing the child to take the item and conceal it. If they are caught, the parent will scold the child, and claim that they had no idea that this was happening.
- Hiding items: Merchandise can be hidden up the sleeve, in boots or socks, and even in underwear. Watch for customers that constantly fidget with their cuffs, and pull their hands all the way up in their sleeves, bend down to tie their shoe laces more than once, or repeatedly hitch their pants up or rearrange their dresses - these are signs that something isn't right. Customers with usually bulky or out-of-season clothing should also be watched. Some shoplifters also use a jacket draped over one shoulder to conceal their actions, and hide items in the sleeves.
- Wearing it out: This is a favoured technique for clothing and shoes. Often the shoplifter will wear the item around the store for several minutes, before simply walking out with it. Usually they will first remove the price tags, or tuck them out of site.
- Hiding in plain sight: This is a favoured technique for large or heavy items. By holding an old receipt in one hand, the shoplifter will walk out of the store as if the item has already been paid for. Another variation of this method is when the shoplifter brings empty bags usually hidden in a pocket, or full bags and packages into the store and when they feel they are not being watched, they will start filling them with merchandise. If they are stopped they will say that these items were bought from a different store. A variant of this method is to simply pick an (usually) expensive item, and to simply walk out. This method is favoured by professionals, because they are usually in and out of the store with their item in less than one minute, without anyone noticing.
- Grab and Run: Similar to the previous 2 methods, but this one involves very little skill, and is usually done with an accomplice who waits in a running car. The shoplifter will walk into the store, grab what they can carry, and run out again. These are the most dangerous types of theft, because they are usually carried out by desperate people, such as drug addicts.
- Groups of children or teenagers: Watch groups of children or teenagers especially carefully, because peer pressure can be a strong influence on normally law-abiding youths. Sometimes groups will loiter in front of a store, looking for the security measures and how attentive the staff is.
Here are some things you can do to prevent shoplifting:
- Make sure that your employees are trained at spotting and apprehending shoplifters.
- Keep your store and the display shelves neat and organized, so that your employees can observe the customers and see if something has gone missing.
- Eliminate blind spots by placing mirrors in the corners, and consider using electronic article surveillance systems or cameras to monitor your store and merchandise
- Prevent grab-and-runs by keeping merchandize away from the exits, and design your layout so that all people entering and exiting the store must pass by security personnel or employees.
- Keep expensive items in locked cases, and limit the number of items that employees remove at any one time for a customer, and ensure that they are replaced when the customer is finished.
- Fitting rooms and restrooms should be watched at all times, and limit the number of items taken into a fitting room, and don't allow un-paid merchandise to be taken into the restrooms
- Keep the cash register inaccessible to customers and monitored at all times.
Many of the same precautions you use to prevent burglary, you also deter vandalism. The following are a few steps you can take to prevent vandalism to your building or business:
- Don't have landscaping that will provide cover or hiding places.
- Keep the area around the building well lit, and visible to the street.
- Get together with the other businesses in your area and agree to watch out for suspicious activity.
- Since most vandalism occurs at night, try to schedule cleaning staff during this time.
- Provide an incentive for reporting vandalism and providing information.
- Repair any damage or graffiti as soon as possible.
Related VPD Anti-Crime Initiatives
Commercial Crime Prevention Quarterly
Visit our Business Liaison page and check out the Commercial Crime Prevention Quarterly, full of information to keep you, your business and your employees safe.