How to Catch an Employee Stealing

by Lisa McQuerrey; Updated September 26, 2017
Executives in a meeting

According to a Jack L. Hayes International 2013 retail theft survey, employees steal from businesses more than five times as much as shoplifters. Theft not only hurts your bottom line, it can also undermine service levels and sow discord among employees. While prevention is the best medicine, setting up surveillance and checkpoint systems can help you catch thieves in the act.

Surveillance Systems

Use high-resolution surveillance cameras in storerooms, by dumpsters and at point-of-sale areas of your business. Regularly monitor the footage and let employees know they’re being watched to help deter theft and to catch thieves after the fact. Use password protected software programs and monitor employee computer usage, particularly if staffers have access to financial information about clients or customers. This will help you track theft via a digital trail.

Run Frequent Sales Reports

Require staffers to log in to cash registers with personal identification numbers and run cash register sales reports several times a day. Don’t be predictable -- run them at different times on different shifts and look for unusually high void amounts or excessive refunds. If you suspect a particular employee, train your surveillance camera on him to catch him in the act. Always count the cash drawer with employees at the start and completion of a shift to ensure accuracy and catch money mismanagement.

Check Your Trash

Use clear plastic garbage bags and lock your dumpsters to help deter theft via trash disposal. Merchandise can be smuggled out of a business via bags and boxes under the guise of volunteering for refuse duty, so get into the habit of checking on garbage and on the employees who take it out.

Use Anonymous Reporting

Encourage employees to anonymously report theft by colleagues and managers. This can include theft of merchandise, cash, credit card information or even theft of time by using work time for personal matters. Set up a telephone tip line or have staffers put tips in a suggestion box. Getting a heads-up about potential theft allows you the opportunity to further surveil at-risk employees.

Take Preventive Action

Conduct background checks before hiring employees and consider pre-employment drug testing. This can help you weed out people with criminal backgrounds and those who have drug habits they’re trying to support. Always pair staffers together for opening and closing shifts to decrease the chances of a single staffer stealing. Get to know your workers and take a personal interest in them. Employees may find it more difficult to steal from a manager or business owner they know personally than from one that feels like a faceless entity.

About the Author

Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.

Photo Credits

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