Giving A Thief A Chance To Not Steal

In the loss prevention world of counter-counter-espionage, a California vendor is pitching a silent way to detect shoplifters who have their own silent way of detecting the detectors. Let's slow this down.

In an attempt to defeat standard EAS devices, shoplifters for years and years have lined shopping bags with aluminum foil and sometimes carried strong magnets to deactivate EAS tags. Then came LP's response, where stores could detect the foil and those magnets, but the detection was audible and did little beyond alerting the thief. Even worse (well, from the thief's perspective, even better), that alert happened immediately, before the thief could steal anything.

In a handful of jurisdictions, the mere possession of such devices is illegal. In most, though, it's not. And even in jurisdictions where the burglary tools are not illegal on their own, it's much better to let the thief either steal (and you've got them on a clean theft) or to do nothing (perhaps that magnet was for a legitimate purpose. Not every burglary tool is used only for burglaries.)

What the vendor, San Diego-based Indyme, is pushing is a silent system that alerts LP that a foiled bag (calling it a "booster bag" is so clichéd) or magnet has entered the store and it flags the shopper and allows the shopper to be tracked, hopefully discretely. It also triggers security cameras to follow the shopper, said Indyme CEO Joe Budano.

The detection system (called Alert Metal Guard made by a Copenhagen vendor called Alert Systems) uses magnetic field disruption to detect the object's profile, which is very different from a container of aluminum foil or a traditional magnet or the shopping cart itself.

Indyme's package is the silent alert mechanism that rides atop the detection mechanism, alerting LP through smartphones, tablets or two-way radios.

Used properly, this alert approach has two potential benefits. The obvious one is being able know who to watch to detect thefts. But the other benefit is that it replaces suspicion with proof.

There are temperature controlled shopping bags that happen to be lined with—yes, aluminum foil. (A regional New Jersey grocery sold them, bizarrely enough.) And magnets have many uses. LP has a tendency to convict first and ask questions never. Giving the thief the chance to steal—as well as the chance to not--is one of the most intriguing benefits of this silent approach.

As Apple's NYC store knows only too well, arresting and jailing (overnight no less) a shopper who did nothing worse than forgetting to click a button while trying the mobile app they were pushing is rarely a good move. The same goes for policies that assume the worst when a shopper forgets to scan something in the self-checkout lane. Giving potential thieves a chance to not steal (today at least) is a step in the right direction.