Thinking Like a Criminal: Assessing Your Retail Store’s Security Risks

Ralph Goodman
Ralph Goodman
Guest Contributor

By better understanding threats and vulnerabilities to deploy a solid baseline of security, retail stores are able to more fully mitigate risks and concentrate on delivering exceptional shopping experiences.

Every person is different, so it makes sense that criminals would be different as well. But there are still some universal trends in criminal thinking. If you can think like a criminal, you will be able to assess your retail store’s security risks like a professional.

What Is Risk?

Risk is simply defined as the likelihood of an unfavorable outcome. You can get a sense of your risk by measuring a threat against your vulnerability. If you have a threat and no vulnerability, there is no risk. Similarly, if you have a vulnerability, but no threat looming, then there is no risk. The more you diminish a threat or a vulnerability, the less risk there is.

The Criminal Mindset

Criminals care about getting away with the crime. Even items with very little value will be stolen if they are easy to steal. In some cases, less valuable items will be targeted so that the value of stolen goods does not exceed a misdemeanor classification as defined by state law (typically between $500 and $1,000).High heels and handcuffs

There are also quite a wide variety of thieves. They range from smash and grab types, to complex criminal enterprises. But the way to protect against any level of retail theft is to take security seriously. Trained security professionals, high-security locks, and surveillance cameras send a message to criminals.

Seeming like you care is one of the best ways to discourage any criminal element. In many cases, this display of intent to protect is more important than the security itself. Because of the nature of security, criminals make certain logical leaps about what it is they don’t see.

By showing that you take theft seriously, you have already won the first battle against the criminal mind. They will assume alarms are monitored, surveillance footage is stored and that the store prosecutes thieves. Unless the criminal knows the specifics of your loss prevention tactics, this is always an available leg up.

Internal Threats

One of the greatest threats to a store are employees. That is not to say that your employees cannot be trusted, but they have most knowledge and access to procedure and products. One of the best practices for protecting against internal threats is to treat all employees well. A disgruntled employee is more likely to steal, and simultaneously less likely to point out theft.

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On top of keeping a lookout for disgruntled workers, special attention should always be placed on management. Due to their level of access and knowledge about security, procedures, work schedules, etc., they have the easiest time stealing and getting away with it. Again, the easier the crime is to commit, the more appealing it is to a criminal. Add on the smaller chance of getting caught, and the risk becomes even greater.

The most important thing is to not become paranoid or accusatory without evidence of an internal threat. This type of behavior is likely to create more problems than it will solve. One should also be highly selective with information such as safe combinations, return codes, etc. Simply limit the number of people with certain access and knowledge, and this will reduce the threats to high-value areas.

External Threats

Threats that come from outside of the business can be spotted much easier than internal threats. Most often these shoplifters will be acting in a suspicious or telling way. Often they will do tests on your security.

These tests include tactics such as taking products and walking around with them, or returning to the same displays multiple times to see if they are approached by an employee. When you see these types of cold reads, it is easy to anticipate the threat.

Other than the more overt giveaways, most criminals simply behave out of the norm. There is something off about them, which can sometimes be indescribable. But, they act differently than a customer. This is because they have no intention of doing what a customer does: paying for what they want. 

Treating external threats as though they are a customer is the best way to disarm them. It displays your company’s active awareness and shows the threat that they are being watched. Communicating your intention for better security is often enough to send them on their way.


A criminal’s’ desperation is the biggest variable to understanding the criminal mind. For the best possible protection, simply invest in a good baseline of security. Have a professional install new locks, ensuring they are high security. Make sure that all surveillance equipment is working, monitored, and pointed at high-risk areas. And, finally, educate your staff about the common signs of criminal intent.

About the writerRalph Goodman is a professional writer and the resident expert on locks and security over at the Lock Blog, a great resource to learn about keys, locks and safety, offering tips, advice and how-to’s for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals.

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