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How Thieves Beat Security Tags in Retail Stores

We often see complex-looking security tags on expensive items in retail operations and commonly in clothing stores. They have been around for a long time, but how effective are they and have shoplifters figured out ways to bypass them? Let’s take a closer look at security tag technology.

First of all, there are several different types of technology used in electronic article surveillance (EAS). These include magnetic strips, which are commonly used in libraries; acousto-magnetic strips that are similar but offer better reliability; radio frequency identification systems, which can only be deactivated by damaging them; and disposable hard source tags that are designed around the philosophy of “benefit denial” by destroying an item’s usefulness. This is often accomplished by attaching a dye pack to clothing.

Unfortunately, even though retailers spend a lot of time and energy planning their loss prevention strategies and technologies, petty criminals are often skilled at defeating these measures. Here are just a few of the ways that crooks can bypass electronic article surveillance.

  • Radio frequency (RFID) security tags can be disarmed by simply making a slit in them.
  • Electromagnetic strips and acousto-magnetic strips can be disabled by waving a strong magnet close to them.
  • Foil-lined “booster bags” can sometimes negate the transmission of EAS signals.
  • Less sophisticated thieves have been known to use the old trick of sewing hidden pockets into their clothing to boost merchandise.
  • There are many online videos that show customers using rubber bands, screwdrivers, freezers and other hardware to remove dye packs from clothing.
  • Other sites online offer advice on how to shoplift.
  • Many companies also manufacture and sell their own security tag detaching keys, which often make their way to auction sites.
  • Smart thieves also test the efficacy of certain stores’ EAS devices; many stores believe they save time and money by using “dummy tags” that don’t really work with the store’s security system.
  • Frighteningly, many common credit cards also contain RFID chips that thieves are able to scan without even having physical possession of the card.
  • At popular department stores and malls, sophisticated thieves have been known to install ATM “Skimmers” which capture customers’ credit card and personal data.
  • It’s becoming increasingly common for petty thieves to use self-checkout machines to steal by misrepresenting items, failing to scan them, or scanning a lower-priced item.
  • Former retail employees note often that the security gates employed as part of an overall security system are often fake or can easily be bypassed.

If this all sounds like a serious problem, it is. Studies estimate that there are 27 million shoplifters in the United States alone. However, if retailers are diligent about their loss prevention strategy, explore best practices advised by experts, train employees properly and implement an advanced video surveillance system boosted by analytics and business intelligence, their efforts are far more likely to deter potential thieves and disarm employees who are considering using their inside knowledge for financial gain.

About the Author — Charles Briggs

Chuck Briggs has been helping restaurants run efficiently and profitably his entire career. After nearly 20 years in restaurant operations, Chuck began leveraging that experience as a hospitality technology sales consultant beginning in 1997. Working with clients big and small, independent and multi-national, Chuck has represented point-of-sale solutions including Aloha POS, MICROS, POSitouch, RPOS, Digital Dining, Future POS and others. His emphasis the last several years has been on POS-integrated solutions for loss prevention, customer engagement, enterprise reporting, inventory and labor management. Chuck holds a master’s degree in communication from Western Michigan University with a focus on organizational leadership, culture and climate.

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