Prevent Workplace Theft

By Beth Mirza Jul 26, 2011
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Police departments across the United States are reporting rising rates of theft, burglary and robbery since the recession began. Criminals are entering office buildings and helping themselves to laptops and workers’ personal possessions—and they aren’t encountering much in the way of resistance.

These mostly nonviolent crimes are being committed by people taking advantage of employees’ tendencies to assume that their belongings are safe, even if left out in the open or in an unlocked office, said Rich Cordivari, vice president of learning and development for AlliedBarton security services.

“It’s a crime of opportunity,” said Cordivari, who spoke recently to a Building Owners and Managers Association conference on the topic. In his session, called “Office Creepers,” he told attendees that a man arrested for stealing from multiple office buildings in Philadelphia told authorities, “I don’t have to hurt anyone. You make it easy [to steal]. You leave stuff out—you’re too trusting.”

According to the Police Executive Research Forum, 44 percent of police departments across the country are reporting increases in property crimes. They report a 40 percent increase in theft, 32 percent increase in burglary and 39 percent increase in robbery since the economic downturn started in 2009.

Many Kinds of Losses

Losses can add up: Not only has the company’s laptop or other property disappeared, but so has intellectual property—proposals, spreadsheets, notes and reports—stored on the laptop. Gone, too, is the employee’s sense of safety and confidence in the workplace.

By and large, Cordivari said, the criminals committing these acts do so nonviolently. They observe buildings and workplaces carefully, looking for unsecured doors, lack of camera systems and inattentive security guards. Once they have an idea of the “ebb and flow of office life,” they’ll don a three-piece suit or maintenance worker’s outfit and stroll into the lobby during lunch hour—a time when many people are out of their offices. Those who are still working are unlikely or unwilling to challenge a stranger, Cordivari said.

“It’s easy to walk around until you see a floor with no one in the lobby, or everyone’s in a meeting. You can do a lot of damage,” Cordivari said.

Common sense measures can prevent many incidents of workplace theft:

  • If you see a stranger in your office, you don’t have to confront him yourself. Call the police.
  • If you choose to confront him, simply asking, “Can I help you? You look lost,” could be enough to deter him and make him leave.
  • Use visitor badges to identify strangers who are supposed to be in the office. Strangers without a visitor badge will raise suspicion.
  • Don’t let people “piggyback” or “tailgate” (following behind you) into your building. Make everyone use or show their access cards.
  • If you enter the building after hours, make sure you hear the door’s lock click behind you.
  • Leave keys, purses, and other personal items in a locked desk drawer and take the keys with you. If you don’t need it—your checkbook, extra credit cards—leave it at home.
  • If you work at night, don’t work alone. If you must work alone, don’t work with your back to the door, and don’t work with earbuds in. Be aware of your surroundings.
  • If you leave your office or work area for an extended period of time, mute your phone ringer. An unanswered phone indicates an empty office.
  • Consider using locks to secure laptops. They are good for traveling, too.
  • Make an inventory of your belongings, including serial numbers, to give to the police in case of a theft.

Beth Mirza is senior editor for HR News. She can be reached at Beth.Mirza@shrm.org.​

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