The holiday shopping season is already here and many retailers are already feeling the pinch of the five-finger discount.
To help, the Kennewick Police Department held a workshop Wednesday to share tips on how to reduce losses due to shoplifting, check and credit card fraud and counterfeit bills. About 25 attended -- retailers, store security personnel and one banker.
"Statistically these types of crimes don't increase during the holidays -- about one person in 50 will shoplift. It just seems like it does because there are so many more shoppers in the stores," said Mike Blatman, crime prevention specialist for the KPD.
Often, the attitude of national chain stores is these crimes are part of the cost of doing business. But when you're a small, locally owned store a $300 loss can be your profits for the day, or the week, he said.
"It's more devastating," Blatman said. "This can be the make or break time of year for smaller stores."
Even thrift stores aren't safe from thieves, said two women who attended the workshop. They're both volunteers with Sails Outlet in Kennewick.
"We sometimes find empty boxes that used to hold a toy, a figurine. And I once saw a woman come in, spend about an hour filling a shopping cart and then she must have just pushed it out the door. We found the empty cart outside and no one had checked her out," said Sails Outlet volunteer Kristy Valett of Pasco.
All proceeds from Sails Outlet -- except its overhead for the store -- go to help support Safe Harbor Crisis Nursery and My Friends Place, a shelter for homeless teens.
"That's pretty low. They're stealing from children," said volunteer Kathy White of Kennewick. "We sometimes find old, crummy shoes on the shelves. Obviously someone came in and switched their old ones for a newer pair."
Sails Outlet volunteers also have caught people changing prices on items.
After the meeting, White said she was pleasantly surprised to find the volunteers at Sails Outlet were already following many of the practices Blatman recommended to deter shoplifting.
His first recommendation: Give great customer service.
Greet people when they come in and offer to help. Even if they just want to look around, be available and roam the store.
"The bad guys don't want to be noticed," he said. "Don't give them an opportunity to take advantage."
If you suspect someone has concealed merchandise -- and there are as many ways of doing that are there are crooks -- offer to put their item by the cash register so they don't have to carry it around, he said.
"Often it was an impulse and, if you give them an out, they'll either leave the store or actually pay for the item," Blatman said.
He doesn't recommend confronting a thief -- prevention is a far better tool.
If you suspect someone of shoplifting, use your smartphone to take their photo. Then share it with the owners/managers of neighboring stores. Thieves often go from store to store, he said.
If a big group comes in and act suspicious, call a nearby store and ask to borrow a sales associate for a few minutes.
"The more eyes on them the better," he said.
One trick thieves pull is putting smaller items inside a larger package. Be aware, does the box weigh more than it should? Does it rattle?
When someone with a backpack, shopping bag or large purse comes in, take a good look at it. As they leave ask yourself, is it bigger than before?
As for check and credit card fraud, checking the person's ID is the first line of defense.
"The only valid ID is a driver's license or ID card, with photo, issued by the state. Accept military ID only as a last resort," he said.
Check if names match, if the person resembles the photo, if the address on the check the same as on the ID.
Don't forget the expiration date. More than 60 percent of forged checks are cashed using an expired license, he said.
Even cash isn't safe. Counterfeit bills are out there, mainly in $50 and $100 denominations, he said.
A merchant's best defense is their eyes. Hold the bill up to the light and look for a watermark, a faint image of the same president that's on the face of the bill.
Check the security thread running down the center.
It should be imprinted USA and the same numeral as the denomination of the bill.
Check the color shifting numeral in the lower right corner.
Tilt the bill, the number should shift from copper to green.
"If none of those are present, or if they don't match the face of the bill, call the police. If it's a bad guy trying to pass a counterfeit bill, they'll likely zip out the door," Blatman said.