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Are Employee Smart Phones Too Smart?

Posted on 9/16/14 1:30 PM

I hate to begin a post with “back in the day,” but…back in the day, retailers had the technological advantage over dishonest employees. We had our cameras, our recording devices, and keen powers of observation to detect potential dishonesty. Mostly we could watch them a lot easier than they could watch us. I still recall training store managers to look for certain signs that today seem laughable. Suggestions such as to observe for “counters” at the cash register. Counters were any thing, like paperclips, pennies and the such, used to keep track of how much money the dishonest cashier had accumulated in the drawer from false refunds etc. Even watching for “customers” who wait to approach a specific cashier isn’t as easy as it once was. Smart Phones have changed the game.

These small, practically free, devices place strong countermeasures in the hands of the dishonest. Why use counters to track your dishonest transactions when you can simply enter the details into a free spreadsheet App? No reason to write down receipt information when you can simply snap a high definition picture. Using sketchy hand signals to communicate to your friend that it’s a good time for a hook-up? Just send them a text when it’s a “go.” 

If that was the extent of possibilities, we’d still be in a good position. But not only is App technology moving fast, it is also getting cheap. 

A quick scan of your sales transactions—if required—suggests cash is about as popular as a Fanny Pack at a night club…well anywhere really. And as the electronic payments increase, so too has “cash” theft shifted to an electronic form. Why steal cash when you can simply credit to your debit card? And why write down a customer’s credit card information, when you can scan her card with a credit card reader product like Square™? Granted there may be some obstacles to such things, like needing a merchant account, but there are plenty of ways around it for the smart thief with a smart phone. And as said, the tech just keeps getting better.

One category of particular interest is smart phone camera technology. Flir One is such a company. They have developed an App that turns smart phones into thermal cameras. Although the current price tag of $399 may be cost prohibitive at the moment, like all things, competition will, in time drive down the price. The dishonest applications for such a device are numerous. Want to know if the manager will pop out of the back room at any minute? Point it at the wall and have a look. Nope, sitting and eating lunch - good to go. And of course, depending the the “heat” of our covert camera…it may not remain covert for long.

The answer to the problem seems simple—don’t let employees use smart phones on duty. bigstock-Handsome-Young-Man-Talking-On--62773132-2Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. A policy that requires such, also requires we provide a safe and secure place for them to store their devices unless we want to suffer the liability. Also we live in a world where malls and restaurants often become shooting galleries, so we have to consider employee safety. So removing the devices from the environment is mostly a dead-end. 

The real solution is to shift our awareness. The smart phone needs to be the same potential red flag as the employee who always volunteers for trash duty. To combat its presence we first need to create policies that address the usage time and the usage places. Such as, phones cannot be used behind the cash wrap unless there is a bonafide emergency. In this manner we install parameters that indicate when an employee has stepped out of bounds. We couple this with the use of our observations and tracking methods to detect issues and we consider the smart phone as the possible mode of operandi. 

As stated, it really is a case of awareness. By keeping up on the changes and additions to technology and thinking “how could a dishonest person use this,” we can do what we have always successfully done—know the tricks before the next dishonest person employs what she believes “no one has thought of before.”  

Topics: loss prevention awareness

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