Hidden Changing Room Cameras: 7 Security Guard Confessions
If you own a store, you kind of accept that a significant chunk of your stock is just going to go right out the door, nested snugly in the pockets of thieves. And whether it's the economy, the need for instant gratification, or simply human nature, people's fingers have gotten stickier than ever. We spoke with three anonymous "loss prevention officers," who are in charge of stopping these petty (but shockingly frequent) crimes. Here's what they have discovered about humanity in their quest to keep the delinquent mobs at bay:
Changing Rooms Are Full Of Shenanigans (And We May Be Watching)
When you fumble around in your underwear in a store's fitting room, maybe you peer suspiciously at every corner, looking for cameras, or you study the mirror to see if there's a bored security guard sitting behind it. For shoplifters, changing rooms are famously hide-the-stolen-booty rooms, so you figure the store's secretly monitoring you. (And yes, it's perfectly legal in most cases -- only 13 US states forbid monitoring customers in dressing rooms.) But many stores don't need electronic surveillance or two-way mirrors for this. They can see you right through the changing room door, which often has slats.
These look merely decorative when you're on the inside, since they're angled upward and you can't see a thing through them. But from the outside, people nearby can see in just fine (from the right angle). Customers don't creep close and look in, or else they'd be hauled off to the pervert jail. But loss prevention officers can and will do this as they stroll by. When reporters occasionally investigate and complain, stores have to admit, "Yeah, that's pretty messed up" and change the doors.
RIP corporately acceptable shoe mirrors.
So what goes on in those fitting rooms, besides all the thieves trying to pile three bras under their shirts? Customers using the rooms as toilets, for one. "Both liquid and solid waste, sometimes both at once," says one source. "Not especially fun ... Though in one case, they were at least nice enough to put their urine in a bottle. Not everyone is so considerate." The real mystery here is that the bathrooms are roughly four feet away, so you'd think it wouldn't be so hard for a customer to choose the correct door. Maybe their bladder and sphincter let go involuntarily because their body says, "We're lowering our pants? In a stall of some sort? We must be in a bathroom! Let 'er rip!"
The worst part is their solution to running out of toilet paper.
And yes, people have sex in the fitting rooms too (if you've been reading enough of these articles of ours, that shouldn't surprise you at all). Normally, a man and woman will each go to a separate room in the gender-appropriate section, and then when the guard faces the other way, the woman slips out and heads over to her partner's stall. One source once intervened on a couple getting frisky in a fitting room, and they turned out to be a woman about 75 years old and a guy around 18. "It's okay!" she said. "I'm just helping him out! I'm his grandmother!" Was she telling the truth? Because it's kind of weird either way.
"I coached him the whole time he lost his virginity to his date on prom. This is nothing."
Speaking of the elderly ...
Everyone Steals Everything
You never want to profile, but the markers of a potential thief are easy to spot. They include breathing, having a face, or being human. "Everybody steals," says another of our sources. "Kids, teenagers, adults, and old people. Your 86-year-old grandmother is probably stealing. We usually ask what the motive was for shoplifters, and for older customers, it's usually just because they wanted to. I've seen people steal, only for them to pull out $100 bills and ask if they can still pay for it."
So if there's no rhyme or reason to indicate who or why a person would turn to a life of petty crime, surely there's logic behind what goods they choose to pilfer, right? Not really, aside from a few favorites. "The most common items are cosmetics and electronics. But meat is a huge one as well. Customers will fill a shopping basket with expensive steaks or briskets and just run for the door ... I was a little caught off-guard once when a guy took two large briskets and put them down his pants. I don't know how he got them to fit, but it's the only time I have ever seen it. Tide is another one that gets hit a lot. Not Gain, or any other detergent. Tide." Those are all popular black market items, as it turns out --shoplifters intend to sell them, not use them
Tough on dirt, soft on crime.
But otherwise, the world is full of seemingly random acts of thievery that each hint at what is probably a fascinating backstory. "Guys sometimes steal makeup because they are embarrassed people will know it's for them. A very strange one was a lady who took everything you need for a cake. Not the ingredients, but decorations, platforms, cutters, frosting bags, and the tips." What, was she baking a hacksaw into a cake for somebody in jail?
"I'm getting the prep work out of the way for when I get arrested for my Black Friday 'shopping.'"
So are you shocked that so many people are willing to break the law over items they could have had for a few bucks? After all, why risk a criminal record over some freaking lipstick? Well, there's actually a perfectly logical reason for it ...
You Have To Steal A Certain Amount For Anyone To Care
As one source explains, "The dollar amount of what is being stolen must be over a certain range, or it's not worth it. For our store, that amount was $20, and if was under that amount, it wasn't worth the store's time for us to get involved. If someone is stealing $10 worth of stuff, and it takes two hours for cops to show up ... why would we bother? Now, if you do it every day, then we'll keep track, document it, and eventually arrest you, but for the most part, if it's under $20, we just try to scare you. Our best tactic is to send in the people in uniforms and hope they frighten you away from further crime."
Posting the right signage helps, too.
Otherwise, well, they have to get creative. "There was a guy who'd come in and get a half-pound of potato salad at the deli. And every time, as he was shopping, he'd eat the salad and dump the container. So just $2.50 a time; wasn't worth the cost. I figured, so what. The guy spends a couple hundred a week in groceries. Let him have his potato salad. But my co-worker was like, 'We gotta do something!' So we hovered and followed him, he tossed the container on an empty shelf on the aisle, and the guy I was working with grabbed it. The shoplifter got in line to pay, unloaded his groceries, and my partner stepped up behind him and put the container on the belt. The customer didn't notice until the cashier rung it up and asked 'D'ya want me to just toss this?' The look on his face was incredible."
Another source confirmed that their store has a similar allowed-theft threshold, and added, "I will also release based on how much cooperation I get, or if I simply don't feel like waiting on PD." So there you have it, folks. The key to getting away with theft seems to be to either steal only a little bit, or billions of dollars at once. Anything in between could land your ass in jail. But even if you do steal enough to get their attention ...
It's Almost Impossible To Catch Perpetrators
Say you attempt to shoplift $40 worth of Q-Tips and mayonnaise. You'd hit the level of theft worthy enough for a Loss Prevention employee to want to throw the book at you. But even then, the procedure is so strict and there are so many hoops to jump through that most thieves are likely to get away anyway.
"In order to make an arrest, there were five things we had to see," says another of our sources. "The first was that a shoplifter had to enter the section they were stealing from. They don't tell you to profile, but you have to be watching a person before they do anything suspicious. You have to see them select merchandise off the shelf. If you see them already holding it and shove into their pocket, you can't do anything. You have to see them conceal an object, put in their pocket, and know exactly where it is. You can't lose sight of them, even for a second. And last, they have to completely exit the store. It's legal to shove merchandise in your pockets if you don't leave the store. It's tough to catch someone under those rules."
And sometimes, like when they steal music, you feel too sorry for them to even bother.
Still, workers will sometimes take justice into their own hands. "I had a co-worker seriously bend those rules once. We had an obviously drunk guy once staggering through the store with a case of beer. It became clear after a while that he probably meant to shoplift -- he was staggering toward the exit. When he was right at the edge, but not over, my partner kinda nudged him out the door, and then we arrested him. There was an altercation. The cops showed up. They were on his side at first -- what my partner had done was kind of messed up. But then he rushed them. So they busted him and I felt a little less bad."
Always remember to shoplift responsibly.
Why do our guys have so many crazy, flaming hoops to jump through before they can even attempt a confrontation? Well, it's because ...
Falsely Accusing Customers Is The Worst Thing You Can Do
"The company would much rather let people get away with something than have us stop an innocent person," says one source. After all, if you miss out on catching a one-time shoplifter, the store loses a bracelet or something, which is no big deal. But if you nab someone who did nothing wrong, then at best, you lose that customer for life. At worst, they sue. "As such, yes, we'll get into trouble for missing a shoplifter, as we should. But unless we're certain they lifted something, we're not stopping them."
The Zapruder film was less studied than footage of a grandmother who may or may not have stuffed leggings into her bra.
He recalls one suspected shoplifter who insisted he was innocent, which isn't as common as you might think. They couldn't search the guy without his consent (they couldn't detain him without his consent either, but he may not have realized this), so our source babysat him in the detention room as they waited for police to arrive. "He asked me what would happen when it was found he hadn't done anything. I said he'd be free to go, with our full apologies for wasting his time." And sure enough, when police came, they pulled out security footage and found no evidence against the guy.
So the customer left and got his apology. But the loss prevention officer who pointed the finger at him? That was one red flag on his record. Later, he accused another shoplifter but couldn't prove anything, and that was it. He was fired. That's the rule: two strikes and you're out.
On the plus side, he knows exactly how much to swipe from
the unemployment office before they start to get up his ass about it.
Employees Can Be A Problem (And You Will Be Pitted Against Them)
The biggest issue with missing items isn't thieves, despite the sad fact that literally everyone is stealing all the time. No, the biggest problem are the store's own employees, since there are endless ways to steal when you're the one manning the register. It's as simple as taking the customer's money, but not scanning the item -- there's no record of the sale, so as far as the store is concerned, the item just got stolen at some point. Testing the honesty of employees requires sting operations that at least one of our sources thought were kind of shitty.
"Me and a co-worker would go to another location, secretly meet security, formulate a plan, and go into the store. We pick out five to ten small items, tear the price tags off so they won't scan. And then my partner tries to buy them. I get ahead of him in line. My partner is behind me, and I take forever to check out. My partner starts to act impatient. Eventually, he goes, 'I'm in a hurry, here's my money. Can you just ring me up later?' and then he'd hand them the torn-off barcode. Now the cashier has a choice. Pocket the exact change my co-worker has given him? Or run the bar code and do the sale? The people 'upstairs' are watching to see what they do. If they take the money, they're obviously not trustworthy cashiers. Fucked up? Absolutely. And it was a monthly part of our duties. They usually didn't take the money, but if they did, we assumed they'd stolen in other ways."
Potato salad-ier ways ...
"Of the three undercovers in our store, one's only job was to catch employees guilty of theft. He'd sit down in front of the guilty-ish party with a stack of video tapes and start making claims that we knew they'd stolen 'X' amount of goods, based on their time with us. The tapes are just a tool to look intimidating. The goal was to get them to admit to stealing and sign a promissory note to pay X dollars to the store to make it right."
"Look, it's either this or we change every item on the police report we send to 'dildos.'"
People Go Fucking Insane When They Get Caught
After ensuring that someone stole something worth enough money to cause a stir, and being lucky enough to witness the entire thing in the exact correct way, the loss prevention officer's troubles are only beginning. When they realize they'll have to face the music for their bad deeds, most people freak the fuck out. This often means panic attacks, or even a trip to the emergency room. But don't feel bad for these wrongdoers; it's usually a sham. According to one of our sources:
"Once, I was on the phone with 911 when a lady 'passed out,' and we tried to clear her airways for a while. PD showed up before the ambulance, and when they did, she was magically awake with no problems. Others are brought to a hospital, and they believe that if they are, PD won't arrest them ... the fun part was reviewing the incidents and seeing them set it up. They would slowly move their legs a certain way so that when they fell they wouldn't get hurt. And it's always when our backs are turned or we look away."
"Look at what your accusations have done! My Ebola always flares up when I'm stressed."
We've already mentioned that the cops aren't getting called in most cases, but petty theft will earn the shoplifter a lifetime ban from the store. Well, one shoplifter returned after such a ban, but she insisted to the loss prevention person that they were mixing her up with someone else -- her "identical twin cousin." Another shoplifter one of our sources encountered decided to go with the "hide it in plain sight" route with their jewelry theft, sticking a stolen earring into a spare piercing in her nose. Caught, she shrugged and said, "Well, it's used now. So I guess you might as well let me keep it." Shockingly, she was wrong on that account.
The guy who ate all the potato salad thought the same thing, and then came the scalpels.
On another occasion, a man picked up a necklace and a bracelet and concealed them in his jacket. Loss prevention officers approached him and led him to the detention room. On the way, he put his hand into his pocket. A guard asked him to keep his arms out, and when he pulled his hand back out, he was brandishing a syringe. "In this situation, protocol states that we let them go. However, legally, we are allowed to use force to protect ourselves." His supervisor figured that the best way to do this was to whip out his radio and crack the junkie on the head. "Thankfully, this whole incident was caught on CCTV, meaning the police had no cause to doubt the security officers' version of the story." And hey, at least the guy didn't shit in the fitting room.
Ryan Menezes is an editor and interviewer here at Cracked. Follow him on Twitter for bits cut from articles and other stuff no one should see.
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