While shopkeepers follow different methods to deter shoplifters, they seldom file a police complaint.

Hiding vessels in vests swapping gold for fakes Bluru shops on clever shopliftersImage for representation
news Crime Thursday, August 02, 2018 - 18:40

Byju, who has run the Casio departmental store in New Thippasandra, Bengaluru, for two decades now, chuckles when I ask him about shoplifters.

“About five years ago, there was a lady who came with her teen son into the store,” he begins. “She took two sets of spoons, a dozen each, and a few steel plates, all hidden in her son’s vest. When we realised the items were missing, we went after them and stopped them a little further down this road. I remember it so vividly because I was shocked at the number of things that came out of her son’s vest,” he laughs.

“Just last month, one customer filled his bag with three kinds of pulses. Then he picked up a soda from the fridge, and only paid for the soda. When we realised what had happened, we went to his home. He was a regular customer and often opts for home delivery. We asked him about this quite nicely. He admitted it, and then never came back,” Byju narrates.

Byju

“These people are damn smart,” he remarks, the amusement apparent on his face.

Ask shopkeepers in Bengaluru about shoplifters and many have at least one anecdote to share. And contrary to what many might think, most shoplifters tend to be relatively well-to-do, from the middle-class and above.

Well-to-do shoplifters

Another incident that stands out in Byju's memory distinctly is when a woman shoplifted a face cream, hiding it in her blouse. “She was a VIP, a regular, and had her Fortuner parked outside. She was wearing lots of gold jewellery, too. Imagine, she lifted a Fair and Lovely cream tube worth Rs 24,” he says.

Shivam*, who owns a toy store and a clothing store, says, “We don’t see many shoplifters in the toy store. The kids might move stuff here and there, but they don’t steal.” But, as he is telling me this, one of his employees brings an empty toothbrush casing. After a pause, Shivam says, “I really think it’s the well-to-do and rich who shoplift. Look at this, someone actually stole a toothbrush and left the packet here.”

Empty casing of the toothbrush someone lifted from Shivam's shop

Even Vikram, who runs a cosmetics and artificial jewellery store, says that the shoplifters tend to be among those who seem capable of affording the products. “We have seen people pocketing nail paints, clips, earrings and even bindis,” he says.

But for Shreyas*, the owner of a 15-year-old stationery store in Thippasandra, the problem is much more complicated. “Apart from the incidents of shoplifting, during festivals and special events, there are a few local men who come and take whatever they want from the shop. We don’t stop them, because, well, they have a reputation. Things can get ugly. Our losses come up to Rs 1 lakh per year with all this,” he says.

Ingenious methods

Manohar, a 66-year-old man, has been running a jewellery shop for 40 years. Narrating an incident from five years ago, he says, “I was showing one man some gold rings. I had kept them on the counter. When I turned around to take out a few more from the shelf, this man took the tag off two gold rings and pocketed them.”

This man, he says, seemed like a person from a comfortable economic background. “But that didn’t stop him from stealing my rings worth Rs 60,000. And he even had the audacity to leave two fake ones in their place!” Manohar says, and takes out the counterfeits he still keeps with him. “I keep them in case he ever returns. He should see these and remember what he did,” he says.

The fake rings the shoplifter left at Manohar's store

While most of the local clothing stores I went to denied shoplifting attempts, Shivam’s clothing is an exception. “My boys will be displaying sarees or uncut cloths, and it becomes a pile after a point. When they turn around or go to find more variety, we’ve seen ladies quickly hide a saree from the pile in the clothes they are wearing or their bags, wherever there is space.”

Mobile stores too have their fair share of shoplifters. Arjun and Mohammad, who run a mobile accessory store near Indiranagar, tell me about the time their own colleague shoplifted phones from the store, a well-planned theft. “This guy actually planned everything. He shut off the power, deleted footage from our CCTV of the time he took the phones. And then he disappeared!” Arjun says.

Mobile stores and young shoplifters

It appears that mobile stores generally tend to see younger shoplifters – students, and those in their early 20s, shopkeepers say.

Arjun and Mohammad, for instance, decided to stop stocking phones after they got stolen twice, and now only have mobile accessories. Before their co-worker stole from them, there was another man, in his early 20s, who walked away with two phones worth Rs 16,000 in broad daylight.

Arjun

“I was showing him some phones. Another customer came, and I just went to attend to them. In the meantime, this man bent over the counter from the other side, reached into the compartment and took two phones. He then casually walked out of the store. We only realised what had happened half an hour later,” Arjun tells TNM.

Elias, a 23-year-old who mans a mobile accessory store, says that there have been times when earphones and chargers have gone missing from the store. It usually happens when he has turned around to pull out something else. “The customer has already pocketed something by then,” he says.

Are branded stores safer?

The incidence of shoplifting in branded stores may not be as high. And with increased security including security guards and tags which trigger alarms unless taken off by the staff, you may expect people to be wary.

But when TNM visited some brand stores on CMH road, they had a different story to tell. Nitin*, the manager of a well-known multi brand clothing outlet, says that they do see people attempting to hide clothing in their jackets or under their clothes to sneak it away.

“You can’t take off the security tag without damaging the item. But maybe for them that small rip does not matter. So, while we do catch some, others tend to get away. It’s mostly men who try to take shirts and other upper wear,” he says.

But it is Sunanda*, who works at a branded clothes, accessories and merchandise store, who reluctantly tells me about an amusing (and passive aggressive) method to discourage shoplifters. “It’s quite rare… But times when we have seen someone trying to shoplift something, we continually look in their direction. And we keep explaining to them about that product. I think they finally feel so guilty that they drop the idea or put the item back,” she shares.

Preventing shoplifting

When asked about how they prevent shoplifting, most store owners said that they have CCTV, and advertise it inside the shops, which acts as a deterrent.

But one thing they all agree on is that filing a police complaint is pointless and cumbersome, and hence, they have not done that. The only exception perhaps is Ahmed, who manages a Samsung store. “Three years ago, a man who had come dressed in a proper suit, shoplifted a phone and a laptop. We filed a police complaint. Turns out he is a ‘professional thief’, and has several cases against him. So, the case is still going on,” he says.

They also see to it that shop employees are alert and keep the products in shelves, taking it out one at a time, under supervision.

This is something Santosh, who works at a watch sale and repair store in Indiranagar, learnt. “A couple of years ago, two women in burqas whisked away one of our watches in their clothing. After that we started displaying them individually in shelves,” he says.

Byju says that he looks out for customers who say that they don’t need an employee to come with them. “We also have a barcode on each product. Every time we run the barcode on the system, it shows the number of items left in the inventory,” he says. “But people have found a way around this also. Customers take out All Out refills from their packets so the barcode is not run. We see so many empties at the end of the month,” he adds.

*Names changed to protect privacy

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