6 Steps for Preventing Employee Theft of High-Value Property

The nuclear materials industry may serve as an unlikely resource when it comes to ideas for preventing employee theft.


The harm from employee theft grows as the value of property increases. For example, the FBI says a vice president of product development at Tiffany & Co. systematically stole $1.3 million worth of jewelry from the company back in 2013, checking out jewelry to show to potential buyers or for other marketing purposes and never returning the items.

That case pales in comparison with a theft that came to light in 2009. A vault manager at Jacmel Jewelry in Queens, NY, stole $12 million in gold over six years—500 pounds worth, one piece at a time—by hiding it in the lining of her pocketbook.

To the extent possible, it’s good to keep high-value assets and critical material separate from employees, but that’s not always practical.

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In casinos, for example, line workers need access to huge chunks of cash. In such situations, what security measures are effective for preventing employee theft? It’s a complicated issue that demands the evaluation of a range of issues, including:

  • how employees are screened and monitored;
  • how materials are accounted for;
  • how investigations are conducted;
  • how staff is trained and motivated; and
  • how security is tested, assessed, and improved.

Looking for insight into protecting against internal theft in the nuclear industry, researchers studied best-practice security measures in the casino and pharmaceutical industries. The lessons, reported in the Journal of Nuclear Materials Management, may give loss prevention practitioners some ideas for protecting property and preventing employee theft when the stakes are extremely high.

1. Constant video surveillance of both vaults and all insider-material interactions. “Constant video surveillance may seem redundant with a two-person rule [requiring two people to be present when a vault is opened], but it provides an additional layer of detection and therefore of deterrence of insider theft.”

2. Frequent and rigorous material accounting. Best-practice casino security requires a rigorous two-person count at the end of every shift.

3. Requiring everyone who touches critical material to sign for it. This security measure is simple and inexpensive, and—while it may not sway a determined thief—has three distinct benefits, according to the study:

  • Increasing security awareness and personal responsibility: “I signed for it, I better make sure it is properly accounted for.”
  • Providing a record of critical material movement. This paper trail could provide an investigative starting point should critical material go missing.
  • Offering insight into irregular employee activities. For example, repeatedly forgetting to sign for critical material, or falsifying or tampering with the signature card would call for further scrutiny.

4. Expanding the two-person rule. Don’t just require that two individuals be present when in the presence of extreme valuables; require that they are from different departments. “Individuals who report to different chains of command and who do not regularly interact are less likely to form the kind of trust required for successful collusion, or suffer the same disgruntlement to motivate theft.”

5. Encourage employee attention to security. “One step every organization should take is to consciously reward, rather than marginalize, employees who point out security vulnerabilities and options for improvement.”

6. Seek security buy-in. Managers reported that they had the most success with constant reinforcement of the message that good security protects the livelihoods of every employee.

This post was originally published in 2017 and was updated April 9, 2019. 

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