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5 Recent Cases of Retail Robbery and Theft—And the Safe Technology to Thwart Them

Sponsored by FireKing

At any given time, even the most casual Google search for “retail robberies” will return pages and pages of recent news items—some recounting thieves’ success; others, their failure. The difference? It often hinges on a store’s safe. Below we examine different types of real-world robberies that made news in August 2017 and the safe technology that thwarted—or could have thwarted—the bad guys.

The brute-force attack. Two robbers entered a 7-Eleven in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, with one acting as a lookout while the other slipped into the “employees-only” area to break into the store safe. But after grappling with it for a time and making no progress at cracking it open, the pair gave up and fled the store empty handed—leaving behind just some damage to the store’s safe.

“Preventing this type of attack comes down to a couple of different factors,” explains Shawn Kruger, vice president for product management at FireKing, a five-decade-old company dedicated to developing high-quality products designed to protect company assets. First, she said stores should have a safe with a security rating that aligns with the level of brute force attack it will need to withstand. “It also matters how the safe was installed, how it’s bolted down, and what surveillance the safe is under,” she said.

Today’s advanced safe technology adds another protective layer and provides retailers with visibility into a safe’s contents. Bank crediting also provides nearly real-time access to cash deposits. “With a smart safe versus a traditional safe, if the money has been credited, then what’s stolen is actually the bank’s money—and now it becomes a federal crime with a stiffer penalty attached to it. It adds another level of deterrence,” said Kruger. “Ultimately, the best protection comes from effective physical security and technology, and using the two together.”

The employee/ex-employee. Also in August, former employees of an American Eagle store in Fort Worth, TX, were sentenced for their respective roles in the brutal killing of the store’s manager in her home. The couple had been fired from the store after being suspected of stealing and subsequently plotted to use the manager’s keys to get into the store and empty the safe.

Kruger suggested that deterrence of such theft schemes is inherent in the design of smart safe systems, which provides business intelligence in the cloud. With visibility and access, corporate LP personnel have an array of customizable security options at their disposal, such as the ability to remotely delete authorized users’ access to safes if they are terminated. “It provides LP with the ability to set up rules, such as ‘if the safe is accessed between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. send an alert to this designated group of people,’” said Kruger. “It gives you notice if something is out of ordinary, lets you know when the last exchange was, and provides access to full audit logs.”

Among other notifications, today’s connected smart safes can inform appropriate personnel in a range of scenarios, such as when a safe door is left open; if cash is removed on a day or at a time when it shouldn’t be; if deposits are not made when they are supposed to be; if the amount of safe drops violates established business rules; or when a site alarm is activated. Through data analysis, LP can spot trends, such as a store that habitually fails to do drops as required, or individuals who fail to do the required number of drops per day. Kruger noted that there is significant crime prevention value in having individuals with distance from a particular store, such as corporate personnel, setting levels of permission and monitoring and analyzing safe activity.

The overnight heist. In Buffalo, NY, a jewelry store had more than $300,000 worth of diamonds, gold, silver and other expensive pieces of jewelry stolen. Thieves cut several wires leading to the store, covered exterior lights at the back of the building with black spray paint, and broke into an adjacent nail salon. They then cut a hole in the wall to enter the jewelry store and sawed a two-foot-square hole into its safe. After two hours in the store, they left with the loot.

“With enough time, you can break into any safe,” explained Kruger. “But there are safes that are rated four hours.” She added that product storage offers a different challenge than cash because LP can’t see the safe’s contents through a bill validator. However, among many new product features in the works, FireKing is working on sensors that would provide LP or other designated personnel a passive alert—such as an email, text, or phone call—when there is motion, a change in temperature, or some other undesired activity within the safe interior. “By itself, that wouldn’t stop a break-in. But it does provide a timely alert that it’s happening.”

The force-open. In Davie, FL, last month, police said a robber loitered near the entrance of a cash advance store, waiting for the manager to open for the day. At gunpoint, he then forced the employee to open the safe and made off with $20,000.

Kruger noted that smart safes with dual control requirements, which require, for example, both a manager and an armored car employee to open, could prevent such thefts. While such a security feature does run the risk of angering a robber who might think he or she is being lied to, it’s probably the safer option overall. “Without smart technology providing daily credit, an employee usually has to walk that money to the bank, and every day is at risk of getting robbed in transit. So you’re actually removing more risk than you’re adding when using dual-access safes,” Kruger explained.

The authorized user. In Oklahoma City, a Goodwill store area manager was discovered in August to be making personal withdrawals from store safes, embezzling thousands from the nonprofit. “What we would do to help in that situation is to do a simple integration of the retailer’s point-of-sale (POS) system with the safe to the transactional level,” explained Kruger. “Then the retailer would be able to compare sales to the daily intake into the safe, and be able to see if it doesn’t match.”

Conclusion. The visibility of cash transaction detail that smart safes provide, such as who accessed a safe, when, and what they did—within seconds—helps reduce cash shrinkage, deter theft, and alert corporate personnel to problems. But asset protection is only part of the value of smart safes, which forward-thinking retailers have noticed. “It may have started as a tool for prevention of internal theft, but it has expanded to provide an additional return on investment beyond loss avoidance,” explained Kruger.

A cloud-based cash management system gives a retailer a near real-time picture of its cash assets. It allows retailers to make use of that working capital, make better business decisions, reduce bank fees, more accurately understand what’s going on in stores, and drastically reduce costs associated with maintenance, service, and administration. Configuration changes can be pushed out to 1,000 stores at once, for example, and systems continually perform a series of health checks and permit remote troubleshooting which reduces downtime.

Still, most stores today remain stuck with traditional safes. “It’s a matter of where you make the business case,” explained Kruger, whether at the store level, where the case could be harder to make—or at the corporate level, where the vast financial benefits are more readily apparent.

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