Working in the security and investigations department in a large retail store I get to see a lot of interesting goings on. It’s seriously one of the best jobs I’ve had involving not only customer but employee investigations, such as collusion fraud.
Employee collusion fraud is one of the trickiest crimes to detect within a store. Retail theft by collusion is when a member of staff works (whether willingly or sometimes under duress) with another to steal or commit fraud. In a retail store, collusion fraud can take many forms such as a staff member giving a false refund to a friend, or giving price reductions on products that shouldn’t be reduced.
This one particular day I was going over a Till Operator Audit Report; a store report that basically provides data about what a cashier does on their till during a given period. The report gives categories of information that’s useful in highlighting areas where additional staff training is needed. But the report is also useful from an investigation viewpoint; if you know what to look for.
Analyzing the report, I found a pattern from a cashier that looked very suspicious. The pattern was on a particular aspect of the report that shows the cashier scanning shopping items and then voiding them off. This would be a case of the cashier scanning a product (usually high value) passing it to the customer and then voiding (deleting) it from the sales bill. The reason for scanning is to make it all look legitimate to anyone watching. This is a form of collusion theft.
I showed my boss and he agreed something did look suspicious and we decided to work late the next time this till operator was on duty.
The next time she (our target cashier) came in to work we set up our store CCTV cameras on her. We were lucky enough to have a very state-of-the-art store surveillance system. Our camera system had a function whereby information could be relayed from the till to our CCTV system with a real-time recorded over-lay on the monitor. In effect we could see (and record) everything this till operator was doing, including the transaction data.
My boss and I were sitting in the CCTV control room monitoring the dishonest cashier, watching all of her transactions going through; and everything seemed to be ok. It was a few hours of surveillance before we spotted a customer acting a little odd. The female customer kept going to the staff member, engaging in brief conversation and walking away.
Zooming the camera out to give a wider field of view we were able to watch both customer and cashier. The customer had a full basket of shopping and went to stand in the queue to be served by our suspect till operator. The customer placed her shopping onto the conveyor belt and began talking to the cashier, appearing very casual and friendly.
As we watched via store CCTV we noticed the till operator scanning some of the shopping items of this customer, passing them to her, and then voiding (cancelling) them off the bill. The customer however packed the shopping items in her bags despite them being cancelled off the till receipt. The customer also passed back an item that had genuinely been scanned for the dishonest cashier to void it off. This was staff and customer collusion fraud at its best.
But that wasn’t all. At the time of payment, the dishonest customer handed over her bank card to pay, and although she paid by card, the cashier took money from the till to give to her accomplice as “change”, causing a till short (loss in money). We had all the evidence of the collusion recorded on CCTV.
At this point I immediately left the CCTV office and made my way to the store exit where I could observe both the till operator and customer finishing up. My boss continued to monitor via CCTV whilst giving me a running commentary over two-way radio of what was happening.
The dishonest customer finished up paying, but not for all of the shopping she had. She still had items not paid for, the items both she and the cashier had colluded in stealing.
The female customer walked past me and left the store whereby I was given the all-clear to carry out an arrest. I detained the female and escorted her back into the store. The dishonest staff member was subsequently removed from her till and escorted to a separate office.
Both the dishonest cashier and her customer friend admitted to collusion fraud and were both arrested by police and removed from the store. Needless to say, the dishonest employee never came back for her staff disciplinary hearing and so was later dismissed in her absence.
Collusion fraud and theft not only occurs in a retail environment but in any business. It costs a huge loss to businesses and can be tough to detect. If you own your own business, it’s worth getting the relevant investigations training and advice to help detect and deter any potential collusion by staff.