AAFES using high-tech gear, employee education in bid to cut down on theft
RAF LAKENHEATH — Do you ever feel like someone is watching you? Well, if you go into an on-base store, there’s a good chance someone is.
Using databases equipped with monitors and cameras that have the power to zoom in on the name of an identification card, loss-prevention detectives keep a constant lookout for potential thieves, including store employees.
In fiscal 2005, more than 1,300 thieves were apprehended for shoplifting about $138,000 worth of goods, while 570 employees were caught stealing almost $500,000 in cash and merchandise throughout Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores in Europe. In the same period at Navy Exchange facilities in Europe, there were 44 shoplifting cases worth $3,265 and 19 employees caught stealing more than $326,000 in goods and cash.
NEX spokeswoman Kristine Sturkie said that one of their employee thefts in fiscal 2005 was valued at $320,000, which is an anomaly for the service. Sturkie refused to release information on what the employee allegedly stole because the case is still under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
In fiscal 2006, through Sept. 4, 622 people were caught shoplifting $63,638 worth of goods from AAFES stores and 411 employees lifted some $269,000 worth of goods and cash, AAFES said.
AAFES spokesman Judd Anstey attributed the drop to increased prevention efforts — such as signs warning that shoplifters would be prosecuted — and security cameras and other technology.
In fiscal 2006, through July, NEX caught 25 shoplifters stealing $4,375 worth of merchandise and seven employees who stole $240 worth of goods or cash.
“I was shocked. I didn’t think the military community stole,” Mike Eustrom, AAFES loss-prevention manager for the United Kingdom, said about his first detective work seven years ago.
Store employees prove to be the biggest threat
AAFES employs 9,000 people in its stores in Europe. NEX has approximately 900 employees.
Even though employees commit most of the thefts, loss-prevention managers for AAFES and NEX say that’s not unusual.
“Nearly all U.S. retailers are facing ever-increasing trends in employee theft,” said T. David Drake, a loss-prevention systems and fraud analysis manager for AAFES.
The results of the latest National Retail Security Survey estimated that employee theft accounts for 47 percent of total theft, while shoplifting was at 34 percent. The University of Florida compiled these figures based on results from large retail chains in the United States.
Drake said there was no way to get the exact percentage of how much employees steal from AAFES stores. But he did say that AAFES in Europe suffered losses of almost $9 million in fiscal 2005 due to “shrinkage” that includes all theft and administrative errors.
Employee theft losses tend to be more than shoplifting because employees are “behind the scenes” and have more access to high-value items and cash. AAFES expects to see one or two employee theft cases of $100,000 each year, Drake said.
The AAFES and NEX policies are clear regarding an employee caught stealing.
“You will be terminated and fully prosecuted if the situation so warrants,” said Larry J. Nicholason, a loss-prevention manager for the NEX European district.
In an attempt to avoid hiring a dishonest employee, each new AAFES associate is given a background check and, in some cases, a National Agency Check for sensitive jobs such as managers, vault personnel and loss-prevention detectives, Drake said.
The NEX also uses an AlertLine program, which is a call center where employees can report potential theft situations, Nicholason said.
Shoplifting at BXs and PXs worldwide in 2005 fell by more than 5 percent to 8,543 incidents, Anstey said.
In NEX stores in Europe, theft cases were slightly lower in fiscal 2004, with eight internal cases of theft for a value of $2,000, two vendor thefts for a total of $200 and 52 shoplifiting cases totaling $2,300 in goods, Sturkie said.
Security methods keep shoppers honest
Whether it’s educating employees or using cameras, electronic article surveillance systems and fraud watch software, loss-prevention detectives have a variety of security methods to catch thieves and deter theft.
To help prevent theft inside the base exchange at RAF Lakenheath, signs hang throughout the store, warning shoplifters that cameras are watching their every move. Since the signs went up about two months ago, Eustrom said there have been only six theft incidents at the BX. Before the signs, there were 28 theft incidents since Feb. 1.
Just like other loss-prevention detectives, Eustrom and his team can’t be everywhere, so they have to rely on employees to combat theft as well.
“We provide shoplifting prevention techniques to associates as part of the new-hire briefings. I tell them once they become an AAFES employee they are part of the loss-prevention team,” he said.
Employees might be the first line of defense, but they can also pose a threat.
Eustrom ensures that no U.K. employee is safe from his team’s reach, and said that numerous employees have been caught stealing at many stores.
Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide
Detectives say that the most popular stolen items among thieves are DVDs, CDs, software, game consoles and gas.
A lot of thieves think that the dressing rooms at certain stores are a safe haven to steal items, but Eustrom said that detectives know better.
Eustrom and his team keeps track of the items that a potential thief carries into and out of a dressing room. If those items aren’t in their possession when they leave the dressing room, a detective or another employee checks the room. If there are no items inside the room, the thief is pursued.
“We’re not allowed to chase, but we do follow,” Eustrom said.
When a person leaves the store with a stolen item, a detective escorts the suspected thief back to the security office in a calm manner and calls in local authorities to take it from there, Eustrom said.
Shoplifters: More than 1,300 incidents, $138,000 lost
Employees: 570 incidents, nearly $500,000 lost
Shoplifters: 622 incidents, $63,638 lost
Employees: 411 incidents, $269,000 lost
Shoplifters: 44 incidents, $3,265 lost
Employees: 19 incidents, $326,000 lost*
Shoplifters: 25 incidents, $4,375 lost
Employees: 7 incidents, $240 lost
One employee theft incident suspected of costing $320,000