Trials And Tribulations Of Vending Thefts

Recently, a vending operator contacted VendingMarketWatch and Automatic Merchandiser to see if we had information regarding vending machine thefts. What types are most prevalent, what types of people steal from a vending machine and how to stop them. For anyone who owns an outdoor vending machine, vending thefts, sadly, are not so uncommon.

Here at VendingMarketWatch, we report – almost weekly – on recent vending thefts. Now, through a series of blogs, I’d like to talk about the most common types of vending thefts, the options and processes operators go through once they realize their machine has been vandalized and types of technologies that are designed to prevent break-ins.

Vandals and villains

There is no way to know why people break in to vending machines: desperation, boredom, curiosity? But in the case of outdoor and public access vending machines, we know that only a few inches of material and glass separates the consumer from coins, dollar bills and product. For some people, that is enough. I’m willing to bet that when thieves approach vending machines, they aren’t thinking about the vending operator who will be losing money; instead, vending machines make it possible for consumers to interact directly with the item they want, without having to think about the person behind the machine.  

Let’s talk first about the types of people stealing from vending machines. I spoke with one Arizona operator who said that in his experience, there is just as much of an inside threat as an outside threat, meaning employee thefts happen. No one likes to think their employees steal, but it’s essential to have a good accounting system to track inventory and cash, that way, when there is a theft, you can pinpoint to the exact day products and/or cash started disappearing. The operator went on to say, “10 percent of employees are going to steal no matter what - 65 percent are on the fence and then 25 percent of employees would never steal. It’s your job to weed out those who are taking from you.”

We ran a story a few weeks back of a former vending company employee who took his keys with him after he was let go; he used those keys to vandalize several of the company’s machines and steal product. Operators cannot guarantee employees won’t make duplicate key copies or even take originals with them after they leave, so it is essential to have systems in place to track product. “Otherwise, you could go weeks without knowing there was a theft,” the Arizona operator continued. Another Arizona vending operator was able to catch an employee theft using tracking systems. “We had an employee who stole from us and we were able to verify it was him because of the door alerts on our machine. We knew he shouldn’t have been at that machine at that time and we could track it through multiple locations,” she said.

The other types of vending criminals come from outside your company. These criminals can vary from amateur to professional, young to old, male to female. “Some thefts are very sophisticated. The criminals have rings – other people they work with. They have people who duplicate and manufacture copies of keys and those thefts are tough because you never know when they break in. They’re like a traveling road show; they come in for a few days and hit all of your machines and then they go away on to the next town,” said the Arizona operator.  While these criminals rob vending machines as a profession, this operator also commented that sometimes he has seen thefts out of desperation.  “We’ve had people break in to city buildings to get into the vending machines. You never know what people’s desperation is for money.” Next week we will discuss the most common types of thefts that operators experience and the types of security/technologies they put in place to deter vending thefts. Do you have a vending theft story that you would like to share? Feel free to email me at Adrienne.Zimmer@VendingMarketWatch.com.

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