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There is no typical shoplifter. They come in all ages, races and from various backgrounds. When trying to identify a shoplifter, observe their behaviour, not how they look, before taking any action.

Look for customers who:

  • spend more time looking at the counter and staff than at your goods
  • take several items into a changing room but leave with one
  • act nervously and pick up random items with no interest
  • frequently enter the shop but never buy
  • hide from view
  • fiddle with price tags.

Take care not to impose security checks which may be discriminatory. For example, if you only search women's bags and strollers you could be subject to a claim of sex discrimination.

Example - Race

Whenever a young aboriginal boy went in after school to the local supermarket, a security guard followed him. The guard regularly asked him if he wanted to buy something or was just making trouble, but he did not treat white customers that way. The boy could claim he was discriminated against by the guard and the supermarket because of his race.


Customer service, combined with shop design, merchandise protection and common security practices, can help minimise shoplifting. Here are some customer service tips to prevent shoplifting.

  • Roster enough staff. Shoplifters often target stores at busy times or when staff are doing other tasks, such as opening or closing the shop.
  • Acknowledge all customers warmly. This lets potential shoplifters know you are aware of their presence and makes your real customers feel welcome.
  • Make sure staff aren't distracted by other tasks and focus on the customers.

Bag checks

Clearly display a sign if you have a bag checking policy. Make sure bags are checked in the same way every time for all your customers. For example, check all bags over a certain size, regardless of who is carrying them.

If a customer refuses to have their bag checked, you cannot force them. You can:

  • ask them to leave
  • refuse to sell them anything
  • call the police if you believe they have been shoplifting.

Approaching suspected shoplifters

Before confronting a suspected shoplifter, make sure it is their behaviour that is causing your suspicion, not a personal characteristic such as:

Make sure you explain to the customer that you wish to check their bag. Be polite and don't make accusations. You should:

  • try to have someone present as a witness
  • remain calm and identify yourself
  • never touch or search the person, as this may break the law
  • not intimidate or threaten them.

For more information on your legal requirements when confronting suspicious customers, visit the Office of Consumer and Business Affairs website.

Ensure your staff understand:

  • your policy on shoplifting and bag checks
  • what you expect of them under these policies
  • the procedures to follow if they suspect a shoplifter
  • not to put themselves in a dangerous situation with a shoplifter.
Related information
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