Information alerting has become a critical business-enabler for retailers, a fact that can further enhance the role that corporate security and asset protection departments play in their organizations by taking advantage of real-time security alerts. LP teams already require an ability to monitor threats online, and regularly comb social media to disrupt fraud and theft activity, and that same capacity can be leveraged to help retailers better their business.
“Corporate security today can be more than it used to be, enabling business leaders to make to make the best decision,” said Ryan Mason, a corporate investigator for Big Lots, in an industry webinar event July 29, 2021. “Corporate security can be that factor of information-enablement for business use across the enterprise.”
Because security must stay current on myriad fast-moving threats—from social unrest to active shooter to organized retail crime—it needs an efficient way to receive real-time security alerts from social media, Mason believes. “Just going out into social media and poking around doesn’t work anymore. There are too many various sources that I could never check and recheck and make sense of without some sort of automated inbox or app desktop.”
By utilizing a real-time information platform—Big Lots uses Dataminr—investigators and security leaders receive timely information to mitigate crisis events and preempt fraud schemes, but it also allows an exceedingly small team to alert business leaders to information they can use to foundationally improve the business.
Mason said the value of real-time information was impressed upon Big Lots in December 2015 when a married couple shot up a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 before fleeing. “We had a store less than a mile away,” Mason said.
An official post-mortem of the incident learned that the first official announcement of the attack was a San Bernardino Fire Department tweet, 12 minutes before the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department warned of an “active shooter”—a gap that suggests the potential lifesaving value of social media monitoring. As the crisis slowly unfolded with police on the hunt for the perpetrators, Big Lots used information from social media to give it “eyes on the ground” during the event.
The 2019 El Paso Walmart shooting was another example of the value of real-time security alerts for Big Lots, with the shooter apprehended just blocks away from a Big Lots store. In that case, the information platform’s app on Mason’s cell phone started buzzing almost immediately with an alert about the active shooter event.
“I was able to talk to my VP and contact our regional AP and let them know that there was a serious active shooter scene near a Big Lots store—and so we quickly started the ball rolling with our response plan,” Mason said. “We had that dialogue 10 minutes before law enforcement responded to the scene, and I could help handle that from a parking lot with a mobile phone.”
Real-time alerting also integrates into Mason’s daily investigative workflow. “Everything I do with investigations has a digital touchpoint,” Mason said, describing a recent investigation in which an alert went out based on a social media post about a gift card for sale online that—based on its price—indicated it was from a merchandise return.
“I clicked on the link to a third-party selling site and ultimately discovered that this individual had sold $200,000 worth of gift cards from Big Lots and other stores and all of that activity was traced to fraudulent merchandise returns,” Mason said. “It all came from one piece of information from a social media site, and it spiraled out to involve other retailers, law enforcement, and exposed an entire network of fraud.”
Big Lots also uses its intelligence platform for alerts of online threats against key executives, as well as for executive protection advance work and during events. In one instance recently, social media monitoring suggested trouble was unfolding outside of a convention center, so the security team was told to direct their executive away from the danger.
Mason said that while PR and social media teams typically do their own monitoring to protect the brand and inform their work, security teams can find items they don’t look for, such as store conditions that might indicate a safety issue. There is a significant difference between a strictly keyword-based solution and an AI-based solution that can stitch together various data for a relevant alert even when a retailer’s brand is never specifically identified in the post, Mason said.
Other Benefits of Real-Time Security Alerts
Big Lots has used real-time security alerts to notify stores of potential chemical spills and multiple active shooter events that triggered potentially life-saving shelter-in-place directives, and recently worked with Dataminr to include air quality alerts for California locations to fulfill new obligations.
Retailers use information alerts for warnings about a multitude of harmful events:
- Sale of counterfeit merchandise,
- Selling of stolen customer or employee data,
- Spreading of disinformation about the brand, and
- Fraudsters trying to trick customers into revealing their personal data.
It can also allow for more timely and informed decisions about business issues that have significant financial ramifications, such as during weather events to suggest how it should re-route supply chains and whether it can keep store doors open. Or provide critical upstream notification of customer service issues, such as a complaint about racial profiling or an allegation of mistreatment by store associates. “We can almost always get out in front of those situations and investigate them,” Mason said. “I am able to say this is the definitive narrative of the complaints, and it gives our communications team an understanding about what actually occurred.”
This is where the value of real-time information really shines, according to Mason. AP can use real-time security alerts to not just do their job better but to help others do the same. That assistance can raise the value of the function in the organization.
“Security or LP and AP teams can sometimes be the last people to know. We’re called in when there is already a problem and when things have already reached a level of concern,” Mason said. “With these tools we can be less reactive. We can be that business enabler. We can drive the conversation around risk.”