Apple Retail Mission: To Not Catch A Thief

For many shoppers, the thief non-interference policy of many chains—especially when it involves firing a security guard who confronted a shoplifter—is baffling, even though it's truly—albeit non-intuitively—the right thing to do. Apple's approach to non-interference with thefts took on an especially surreal twist in Toronto late last month.

Seems that Scott Barkley had his iPhone—among other things in his coat—stolen from a neighborhood bar a few days before Christmas. He cancelled the phone's service and contacted police. The next day, he received an automated E-mail from Apple, reminding him of his appointment that day at a local Apple retail store. He had made no such appointment, so he concluded that the thief—presumably frustrated by Barkley's audacity for shutting off the phone service—scheduled the appointment to try and reactivate the phone.

Told of this, Apple refused to intervene. They told him that policy prevents them from getting involved. "I can't believe they don't have some protocol to deal with that. You can imagine it's not an uncommon situation, people showing up with stolen phones," Barkley was quoted saying in The Toronto Star. In fact, the store does have a policy: Don't take sides. If the customer wants to call police, let the police handle it. If police aren't called, treat everyone as a legitimate customer.

Barkley went to the Apple store, but he didn't see the thief and the store stood by its do-nothing policy. Police arrived and could find nothing wrong. Turns out, the thief had already come and gone "with a story about buying it from a friend of Barkley's uncle, only to find the phone didn't work. The Apple clerk at the Genius Bar assumed it was a phone malfunction, and seemingly without checking to make sure, handed the man a brand new phone and put Barkley's stolen phone in the back, to be sent off for servicing," The Star reported.

The police later confiscated the "malfunctioning" phone and returned it to Barkley. As for that thief, if he's dumb enough to continue to use the phone, he may find it's becoming a homing signal for police looking to close out a theft. Anti-thief-interference rules make sense for store employees and for the chain itself. But would it really kill an Apple associate to fully read the notes before handing out new phones?