A Little Secret: Shoplifters Can Ignore Exit Alarms

but they debase honest shoppers as well as our freedom

I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading on shoplifting ever since my Assemblywoman, Mary Hayashi, was arrested and then convicted for stealing over $2,445  in merchandize from Neiman Marcus.  I wanted to understand what made her do it, and at some point I will write about it.

But in researching shoplifting techniques, I found quite a few threads about the electronic/magnetic anti-theft tags that are now put on products of all kinds, from books to electronics (though items of clothing use a different kind).  There are actually several types of these, some hidden within the products.   They are made so that they will be detected by sensors near the exit, which will be if the tag is activated.   When you purchase the product, the checker deactivates it to avoid the beeping.  Shoplifters, as you can expect, try to remove these tags and avoid the beep.  They shouldn’t bother.

The problem with these systems is that they are not sophisticated.  They are often, if not always, calibrated in a way that is not exclusive to the tags used by a given store – so they will be beep if you pass the sensors with an active tag from a product that you bought elsewhere.  Moreover, the deactivation process doesn’t always work, so the sensors may beep when you go by with a product you have actually purchased.  Stores know this, and while they may request patrons to stop (though this is rare), they won’t force the issue.  What generally happens is that the honest shoppers (and inexperienced shoplifters) will stop to have their bags searched.

It may be that these devices deter shoplifting by incompetent shoplifters (which may be a good thing if it stops potential shoplifters from trying it in the first place), but they also present an inconvenience to shoppers.  For one, the implication is that all shoppers may be shoplifters, a “guilty until proven innocent” philosophy which is both baseless and dangerous in what should be a free society.  For another, it embarrasses honest shoppers publicly, as many people do interpret the “beep” as evidence of shoplifting.  Moreover, it makes shoppers waste time.  Needless to say, I disapprove of these devices just as much as of having “greeters” demand to see your receipt and bags when you exit a store.  I’m writing this article to let you know that you too, my honest reader, can just ignore them.

I have a friend that has the same philosophy but is a little more daring than I.  He took one of these devices that had not been deactivated and placed it in his wallet.  Pretty much every time he goes into and out of a store the device makes the sensors beep.  Sometimes he getslooks from the sellers or guards, but never once has he been stopped.  Stopping him, after all, might make the store liable for a claim of false imprisonment.  While stores have a “merchant privilege” of stopping you if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that you have stolen something, the sensors have too many false-positives to make any suspicion reasonable.

There is actually a protocol that merchants should follow to support actual arrests and convictions for shoplifting and avoid false arrest charges.  Neiman Marcus loss prevention agents followed this protocol to the letter when they detained Mary Hayashi.  As there was no question that she had shoplifted, she plead guilty to a misdemeanor to avoid a felony conviction.  She got a slap on the wrist for doing it, though, and she still may be able to salvage her political career: she’s currently running for Alameda County Supervisor.