Ultimately, more than a dozen people have been implicated. The thefts spanned five countries, leading law enforcement to create a multi-jurisdictional task force called “Crush ‘Em.” After three months of collecting information and generating leads, newspaper reports indicated the task force got a tip from a solicited individual who declined to join the crime ring. Damages to the 80 machines were reported to total more than the loss of money, an estimated $35,000 in damage.
Beaver Vending, Beaver Dam, Wis., had a single machine attacked by the crime ring, said Daniel Braker, manager. Most of Beaver Vending’s machines are indoors and the thieves were hitting outdoor locations near retail establishments. It was mostly the bottlers whose machines were targeted.
Although Dodge County Law Enforcement did not contact Beaver Vending for the “Crush ‘Em” task force, Braker has worked with the local police in the past.
Beaver Vending has had some success when thieves admit to the crimes after being apprehended for something else – occasionally Beaver Vending will get a nominal amount of restitution, according to Braker.
Beaver Vending doesn’t use cameras or even insure machines. “It’s cost prohibitive,” said Braker. Almost all of Beaver Vending’s machines are indoors and well supervised.
Something Beaver Vending does is uniform their employees. In fact, all operators interviewed put their drivers in some sort of identifying clothing. Many add picture IDs that must be worn at all times. Locations are told about this uniform and told to call if anyone without a uniform is in the vending machines.
HIDDEN VIDEO CAMERA: OFFENSE OF CHOICE
The best tactic to catch thieves is a hidden video camera. Mark Manney, CEO, Loss Prevention Results, based in Hickory, N.C., has helped vending operators with many security needs. He’s seen operator’s losing huge amounts of money because former employees have keys to machines or repeat offenders break in for fast cash.
He recommends a video camera as the weapon of choice in the loss prevention arsenal. He worked with Mark Janco, owner, Total Loss Control, to create the “VendCam,” a small video camera with excellent quality pictures. If installed correctly, most people are unaware there is even a video camera aimed at them. It’s the size of a pen and is installed covertly inside the machine. This allows an operator to place it without needing to get the permission of the location where the machine is located.
“There are about 75 of these systems out in the industry,” said Manney. Although the cost of one of these covert cameras is over $1,000, the benefit, according to Manney, outweighs the price by lowering theft, thereby lowering cost of goods. The camera produces evidence of the theft and in most cases, a clear picture of the thief. Since in Manney’s experience most thieves are employees or ex-employees, the owner or company appointed loss prevention manager can identify the thief. If the perpetrator is unknown, running the video at the police station, local news or on the Internet has led to many arrests reported on VendingMarketWatch.
Manney also uses cameras to protect warehouses, working with digital systems to create electronic fences with motion activated cameras. The cameras only record movements in areas of the facility that should be empty during weekends or holidays. Manny also helps operators work with police presenting evidence.
SURROUNDINGS INFLUENCE THEFT
Much of preventing external theft is based on environmental factors. Brain Allen, director, government affairs and counsel, National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), said the NAMA Security Manual by consultant Fred Miller is still a key resource for operators looking to increase security. He also gets calls from operators who wish to discuss their security issues.
“I’ll talk to them and make recommendations,” said Allen. Initially, the actions are reactive to a crime, but Allen helps them narrow down their key concerns, figures out how operators should react, and suggests what they can do proactively to prevent future loss, all while being practical and evaluating risk versus reward. Allen can also recommend an expert consultant when needed.
“It’s pretty obvious if it’s vandals,” said Allen. “Then we go over external security. Is it a street location? Under lights? What can be done to lessen its isolation? Is it by a retail location that has security cameras or a security guard? Can you talk with the location to have their security cover your machine?”