Small Business Crime Tips
Crime-burglary, robbery, vandalism, shoplifting, employee theft, and fraud-costs businesses billions of dollars each year. When small businesses are victims of crime, they often react by changing their hours of operation, raising their prices to cover their losses, relocating outside the community, or simply closing. Take a hard look at your business-its physical layout, employees, hiring practices, and overall security. Assess its vulnerability to all kinds of crime, from burglary to embezzlement.
- Make sure all outside entrances and inside security doors have deadbolt locks. If you use padlocks, they should be made of steel and kept locked at all times. Remember to remove serial numbers from your locks, to prevent unauthorized keys from being made.
- All outside or security doors should be metal-lined and secured with metal security crossbars. Pin all exposed hinges to prevent removal.
- Windows should have secure locks and burglar-resistant glass. Consider installing metal grates on all your windows except display windows.
- Remove all expensive items from window displays at night and make sure you can see easily into your business after closing.
Robbery doesn't occur as often as other crimes against businesses, but the potential for loss can be much greater from a single incident. Also, robbery involves force or threat of force and can result in serious injury or death.
- Greet every person who enters the business in a friendly manner. Personal contact can discourage a would-be criminal.
- Keep windows clear of displays or signs and make sure your business is well-lighted. Check the layout of your store, eliminating any blind spots that may hide a robbery in progress.
- Provide information about your security systems to employees only on a "need-to-know" basis. Instruct your employees to report any suspicious activity or person immediately and write down the information for future reference.
- Place cash registers in the front section of the store. This increases the chances of someone spotting a robbery in progress and reporting it to the police.
Credit Card Fraud
- Train employees to follow each credit card company's authorization procedures.
- Be skeptical of a customer with only one credit card and one piece of identification.
- Be aware of the customer who makes several small purchases by check or credit card that are under the amount for manager approval.
- Is the item being purchased one that could be easily fenced for cash? (Examples include televisions, stereos, cameras, and other portable items.)
- If you are suspicious of the purchaser, make a note of appearance, companions, any vehicle used, and identification presented. Call your local police department.
- Look for "ghost" numbers or letters. Many times criminals will change the numbers and/or name on a stolen card. To do this they either melt the original name and numbers off or file them off. Both of these processes can leave faint imprints of the original characters.
- Examine the signature strip on the credit card. A criminal may cover the real card owner's signature with "White-Out" and sign it on the new strip.
- Check to see if the signature on the card compares favorably with the signature on the sales slip.
Many fraudulent checks are visibly phony. By paying close attention to a check's appearance, you can often detect a possible bad check before accepting it as payment. When you see one or more of the following telltale signs, you may be looking at a phony check. Protect yourself against possible losses by requiring management approval of the check or asking for an alternative form of payment.
- No perforation on check edges Apparently altered writing or erasures Water spots or alterations of check's color or graphic background Numbered under 500 (new account)
- Glossy rather than dull finish of magnetic ink
- Signature does not match imprinted name and ID
- Businesses lose billions of dollars each year to shoplifting, and then often must pass this loss on to the customers through higher prices.
- Train employees in how to reduce opportunities for shoplifting and how to apprehend shoplifters. Work with law enforcement to teach employees what actions may signal shoplifting.
- Keep the store neat and orderly. Use mirrors to eliminate "blind spots" in corners that might hide shoplifters. Merchandise should be kept away from store exits to prevent grab-and-run situations.
- Annual damage estimates are in the billions, and businesses pass the costs of vandalism on to customers through higher prices. Most vandals are young people-from grade schoolers to teens to young adults.
- Clean up vandalism as soon as it happens-replace signs, repair equipment, paint over graffiti. Once the graffiti is gone, use landscape designs (such as prickly shrubs or closely planted hedges), building materials (such as hard-to-mark surfaces), lighting, or fences to discourage vandals.
- Work with law enforcement to set up a hotline to report vandalism.
Employee Theft Prevention
- Employee theft accounts for a large amount of business losses.
- Establish a written policy that outlines employee responsibilities, standards of honesty, and general security procedures and consequences for not following them. Make sure new employees read it, understand it, and sign it as a condition of employment.
- Follow strict hiring practices. Verify all information and contact all the references listed on an application. Consider running a credit check.
- Reward employees for uncovering security problems and for doing a good job.