25 Signs of a Shoplifter in Your Store

25 Signs of a Shoplifter in Your Store

Retail businesses lose nearly $50 billion per year due to shoplifting and similar types of theft. Though you may not be able to eliminate theft completely, you can dramatically reduce the impact by knowing the signs and training your employees to be on the lookout.

Signs of a Shoplifter

Shoplifters can be any age, race, gender and social class. So you have to go beyond the basics and look for specific mannerisms and signs to minimize the effects of shoplifting on your business. Here are some of the top things to look for.

Familiar Faces

Shoplifters certainly don’t all fit into one category. But you may already be aware of some specific individuals who have shoplifted or tried shoplifting from your store. If you’ve caught someone, you can ask them not to return to your store. If you’re just suspicious of a frequent visitor, you might increase security measures or keep a closer eye on them.

In fact, new security systems that use facial recognition technology could help you identify previous shoplifters. According to Daniel Putterman, CEO of computer vision security provider Kogniz, his company’s system allows you to add a photo of a previous offender so you can get alerts if and when they try to enter your store again.

Frequent Visits

Kogniz is also capable of detecting unusual activity like an individual walking around your store multiple times. Even without such a security system, be on the lookout for people who visit your store regularly but don’t make purchases, or those who walk past your store multiple time while looking inside.

Oversized Clothing or Bags

Shoplifters often carry large purses or backpacks where they can easily conceal the items they steal. Or they might wear oversized clothing that could easily fit items inside. Of course, there are other reasons to carry purses or wear large coats, but it’s worth keeping an eye on anyone with a large, open bag.

Winter Gear in Summer

Jackets or large scarves can also be quite effective when attempting to conceal stolen goods. Of course, most people are likely to be wearing these items in the winter. But they should probably raise some red flags on warmer days.

Lumps in Clothing

Since there are plenty of legitimate reasons for people to wear jackets or oversized sweaters, you should also look out for additional signs. This could include awkward lumps under jackets, where the offender may be holding their stolen items.

Split-up Groups

Shoplifters often work in groups. To avoid drawing attention to themselves, they may split up so one can steal while the other distracts employees. Or they could simply take different parts of the store.

Distracting Staff Members

In fact, any sort of distraction or diversion may be a sign of a shoplifter. If anyone asks excessive questions or needs help in one specific part of the store, you may want to pay special attention.

Asking for Out-of-Stock Items

One common method for shoplifters to distract staff members is to ask for items that are not available in the main part of the store. If they can get you to go check the back stockroom, they can easily grab something and make their getaway.

Constantly Monitoring Employees

Shoplifters tend to pay more attention to employees than to the actual products in the store. If you notice someone looking at you constantly, you may want to pay special attention.

Examining Multiple Items

Shoplifters will often pick up items throughout the store and examine them so it won’t seem strange when they pick up an item to steal. This can also be a tactic to throw you off the scent, since you won’t necessarily know exactly what item was stolen.

Excessive Sweating

According to Dr. Lillian Glass, body language expert and author of “The Body Language of Liars,” excessive sweating, especially on the T-zone of the face, is common for those who are being deceptive. Of course, there are other reasons for excessive sweat, but it may be worth keeping an eye on someone who is especially flushed on a cold day.

Lack of Eye Contact

Those who are being deceptive also may have a difficult time making eye contact with people when they’re questioned. It’s not always a surefire sign of shoplifting, but may be something to look out for.

Looking Around Constantly

Shoplifters will also want to be sure that they’re not being watched when they actually go to steal something. If you notice someone with a swivel head, pay special attention.


Fidgeting is another sign of nervous behavior. Be on the lookout for excessive scratching, face touching, or hair pulling.

Nervous Behavior When Questioned

A study from UCLA found that people who are lying tend to give short responses, over-justify their behavior and repeat questions when they’re approached by another person. If you believe someone may be shoplifting, simply asking if they need help with anything could give you clues about their intent.

Noticing Security Cameras

If you do have security cameras around your store, shoplifters are likely to take notice. They may also try to avoid those parts of your store and focus on back corners or areas that aren’t well monitored.

Loitering in One Spot

Shoplifters also tend to stand around for awhile in one particular part of the store. Pay attention to anyone spending an unusual amount of time in a back corner.

Filling Changing Rooms

In clothing stores, it’s common for shoplifters to take multiple items into a changing room so they can conceal items under their clothing without detection.

Multiple Guests in Changing Rooms

You should also be wary of groups entering changing rooms. They may be working together or trying to create some confusion among the staff.

Atypical Customers

Shoplifters do not have one specific profile. But your small business probably has a pretty consistent target customer. Those who don’t seem like your regular customers may be a bit more likely to shoplift.

Carrying Multiple Items

It is also common for shoplifters to carry around large piles of items so it won’t seem as unusual if one or two of them goes missing. In fact, some shoplifters may even purchase multiple items while also sneaking extras out of the store with them.

Shopping During Off-Hours

Shoplifters do not normally like to take things when there are a lot of people around. Even if staff members are busy, other shoppers may notice something. So pay special attention during slow times.

Loose Price Tags

Not all shoplifters simply take things without paying. Some may try softer tactics like switching price tags so they end up getting a very expensive item at a much lower price. Be on the lookout for any price tags that look like they were placed on a product haphazardly. And check prices on items that don’t have price tags at all.

Obstructed Faces

To avoid being identified, some shoplifters will wear hats, scarves, or sunglasses that cover up parts of their face.

Quick Exits

Once a shoplifter has grabbed their items, they are likely to try and make a fairly quick exit. They won’t necessarily bolt out of the store, though that should raise some red flags as well. But they may walk a little more briskly than other customers. So it could be worth checking security footage.

Image: Depositphotos.com

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Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends, covering entrepreneur profiles, interviews, feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. When she’s not writing she can be found exploring all that her home state of Michigan has to offer.

13 Reactions
  1. You should have some procedures for this. And to be ready in case he is armed.

  2. Thank you for the article and the reminder that unusual behavior may be a theft factor. One thing to keep in mind when reading these tips is that it’s important to remember that while one or more of these behaviors may indicate a pattern conducive to theft, they are not in themselves conclusive for theft. Provide excellent customer service, be proactive and prudent when making a determination.

  3. One other thing that should be kept in mind is that certain people are trying to compete with other people for certain products, for example Hot Wheels cars the lawyer in one spot they stand there looking fidgeting because have you ever tried to look through 350 Hot Wheels or worse a dump bin with 900 Hot Wheels? Hot Wheels collectors are labeled thieves unfairly all the time.

  4. I do security in numerous stores. I been told not to doing anything except watch them. What am I aloud to really do I confused. Please help

  5. BPS Security Officer

    I am a current LP security guard at a Bass Pro Shops. Each place has their own set line they don’t want their security guard to cross. Some places only want you to observe and report. Some want you to also confront and apprehend, if needed. Some allow you to do all the above plus physical restraints and detaining. It all depends on your location. Best advise i can give is ask the supervisor of the location you are “securing”.

  6. I have really bad social anxiety which causes me to sweat, blush and avoid eye contact at the counter. Thanks to this article, I can understand why this behaviour might have been interpreted differently. It is still discouraging to have been treated with so much hostility in certain stores, but I suppose it’s unavoidable.

    • I have the same exact thing. It’s really upsetting when you’re already anxious and then someone is rude to you and watching you on top of that! I’ve never stolen in my life and get followed and treated poorly by staff at so many stores.

  7. Or maybe you don’t have what they need or want. Maybe they have light sensitivity so they wear glasses and or a hat. Maybe they the in hurry and have to return to that area cause they didn’t see it the first time or it because stores keep moving stuff around. Eye contact in animal world it a sign of aggression. In asia it’s a of disrespectful to look someone to he eye. And maybe they have a tbi that makes them seem to be acting all these combined.

  8. ‘What burns me up is that I paid for what I wanted yet some jerk fails to remove the loss prevention gadget. I will get right up in their face and tell them I don’t care if you’re busy or not, just remove that gadget. I had a case of sticky fingers as a teen, I got pinched, and it really knocked some sense into me. It also scared the living daylights into me

  9. I’m a woman on the autism spectrum. I look like any other woman, though perhaps a bit disheveled. But many of these things are nearly impossible for me to control. I don’t make eye contact, I lose track of time and wander for long periods, I fidget constantly, I have to touch everything multiple times before deciding to buy, and I get anxiety and back out of about half my purchases and put them back before I leave. I on this article because I was trying to figure out why an employee was following me around hobby lobby. I understand you have to watch out for your merchandise, but part of this advise seems very ablest. Not just to people with autism, but also adhd or anxiety.

    • and also I look like any other girl, I don’t think anyone would even notice I have autism unless they see me getting stressed out, anxious, angry, frustrated, annoyed, overwhelmed or notices how sometimes I struggle holding a conversation, understanding sarcasm and jokes, understanding social cues, sometimes not knowing when something is appropriate to say in that place or/and time, sometimes I couldn’t tell before saying it and didnt realise how it was innapopriate to say at that place and/or time till after I say it or even a few hours later, or I know I shouldn’t say something before but I can’t hold the impulse and say it and sometimes I don’t realise that I shouldn’t say it until midway of saying it or when I started already saying a few words that,s part of Autism and ADHD, sometimes can’t tell if I offended or upsetted someone by what I said (but me not realising that it sounded rude and didn’t say it to hurt their feelings) that’s a mix of ADHD and Autism, when Im talking with them and they remember something that makes them angry or if they are in a bad mood and it shows in their tone of voice and body language, I automatically assume that I did something wrong but that’s a mix of Anxiety and I think Autism as well

  10. At Our old store, We have a hinged floor panel in front of the check out counter that is activated by a floor switch, that drops open and collects unsuspecting shoplifters caught on camera stealing. Its a Shute that leads down to the Store furnace. – It’s been there since the 1930’s. Nobody has ever said anything so far.