Stopping Internal Theft


We’d all like to think our staff members are honest and trustworthy, and most of them probably are. However, every once in a while a news article appears to remind us to always be vigilant.

A hardware store manager in upstate New York was charged in June with stealing more than $14,000 from the store in the past six months. During the investigation, police discovered another employee had stolen power tools.

The incident led a number of retailers to post their thoughts on Hardlines Digest (www.hardlinesdigest.com), which follow.

Lex Stevens of Back Bay Hardware in Boston has had a similar experience. “I just went through this myself. Fortunately, this time, we caught it early. As best as I can tell, it had only been going on for a couple of weeks, and the employee stole a couple of hundred dollars. What I hate more than the actual theft is all of the blowback. All the systems have to be reviewed, more constraints have to be put into place, more overtime paid until someone new is hired and trained, locks changed, my vacation plans cancelled, etc.

This kid had come in with a black eye a couple of weeks ago. After I fired him, I remembered that an old boss of mine used to fire anyone who came in with visible signs of having been in a fight.  I never asked why, but I guess his reasoning was that if your life was such that you got into fights, then you were going to be more trouble than you were worth.

Maybe it’s time to drug test, CORI search and credit check all of them. I’ll bet putting that in a ‘Help Wanted’ ad seriously cuts down on the applications that have to be reviewed.”

Matt Mazzone from Mazzone True Value in Brooklyn, N.Y., related his story and wondered about the challenges faced by multi-store operations: “Several years ago one of my more trusted cashiers was caught stealing. It’s a shame that so many safeguards have to be put in place. We all would like our employees to be ‘free’ enough to take care of customers without so many safeguards in place — manager overrides, etc. Unfortunately, when things like this happen even more safeguards have to be put in place and customer service can potentially suffer.

I once asked someone who owns many stores—how do you do it? How can you trust so many people on a day-to-day basis with all that cash and inventory lying around? His answer: you have to accept the fact that people are going to steal and you’ll never know it all or catch it all. I just opened my second store and I’m already having nightmares. I can’t imagine those of you out there that have 10 or 20 locations — I would never sleep!”

Pat Maahs of Beisswenger’s Do it Best in New Brighton, Minn., captures some additional information at POS when handing returns: “One thing that works for us (or at least we haven’t caught anyone for awhile) in the body of the return transaction we have the ability to type in notes.  We ask the customer for their driver’s license and enter DL# name and address and ask for a phone number. Then we print a receipt and have them sign. All returns are verified against the drawer totals. Then we randomly pick a couple and call to verify. All you have to do is call on them right in front of a cashier and the word spreads. We do this after we hire a couple of new cashiers so they learn they are being watched and this is not a way to steal.”

Lex Stevens posted a follow-up, wondering how to balance customer service while also preventing refund abuse and employee theft: “I do accept that there is going to be a certain amount of employee theft.  My idea has always been to keep it to a minimum.

I realize that I pay more attention to my employee’s customer service skills than I do to returns and voids. Why did that customer you were helping leave and not buy anything? You should have told that customer that, even though we don’t sell what they were looking for, they can get it at the store across the street. What was the customer on the phone looking for? You didn’t thank them for calling. You didn’t say ‘please’ when asking for the money and ‘thank you’ as they were leaving.

Maybe if I paid as much attention to refunds and voids, my losses at the cash register would be as low as my customer service scores are high.”

When the economy is slow, retailers are more likely to suffer internal theft from cashiers. That’s why it’s important to have the right procedures in place to keep everyone honest.

“You cannot trust anyone, even those you want to. We have used dedicated tills for years,” says Dan Schiffman, ceo of Pasadena True Value Hardware and Paint in Pasadena, Calif. “Shortages happen occasionally, but never the substantial errors and possible thefts of the past,” he says.
Here are some of the cash-handling procedures his store follows:

  • For those on the Activant system, there is an option where the cashier must relog in for each transaction after the drawer is closed. This keeps the cashier from just making change out of the drawer.
  • Make sure you either use the high-security passwords or at random have all staff, including cashiers, change their passwords while you supervise the process. This will make it harder for ‘shoulder surfers’ to steal passwords. “There will be some sour looks and attitudes, but they will get over it. Customers have never complained that my checkout lines were too slow,” Schiffman points out.
  • Have a removable cash tray for each cashier that they count when their shift begins. Make regular cash pickups that the cashier and duty manager verify.
  • Keep a tally sheet of some kind in the tray that each initials upon the change of custody of the cash. Include listing all additions of coin and bills to the tray during the day.
  • Balance each cashier at the end of their shift to verify what they should have had picked up in “drops” and what is still in the tray after the opening amount (Pasadena True Value uses $300 in coin and small bills). Their total must match.
  • If they do not match, the detective work begins. Make sure that your change fund is balanced and correct. If the cashier is within $1.00, let the variation go until the store is balanced the next morning before opening.
  • If the discrepancy is over $1.00, a written employee warning form should be filled out and signed by both duty manager and cashier. Most variations are found when the entire store is balanced. Doing a random balance of a tray mid-shift without warning really keeps the cashiers on their toes.

“Overages are as bad as shorts. I have terminated, prosecuted and convicted for missing cash in the past,” Schiffman adds.

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