Ripping off the mask of internal theft

July 22, 2014
A loss prevention specialist recounts what happened during and after presenting loss prevention orientation in different vending companies.

There were 12 employees sitting in the dark conference room watching the third showing that day of the 15-minute loss prevention DVD presentation. The company grapevine travels faster than the phone company, but the whispered reactions from the first two groups didn’t prepare one employee in the last group for the images and the pointed message in the loss prevention video he was watching.

The last of 11 clips taken from a covert vending machine camera was dancing on the screen and as usual, you could hear a pin drop. The previous 10 theft clips included a route driver making a routine collection stuffing cash in his wallet, technicians greedily grabbing bills, two uniformed security guards (one a former technician) using stolen keys to open machines and a changer, greedily pulling at the money. There were also other stark scenes of bold theft exposed.

The rank and file audience was past shock (the honest ones amazed…the dishonest ones numb with fear), realizing this covert camera’s capability and that this capability could now be in their machines and changers. As usual, those in the audience who had stolen or who were actively stealing were fighting for control to push down waves of panic welling up inside. Some could hide it, but others could not.

The 11th and final theft clip showed a young female money room counter reaching into the safe, pulling out a thick wad of cash as the DVD’s video voiceover explained she was grabbing $500 and was about to hide it in the trash next to the safe.

She would return for it when she was alone in the money room, then stuff it down the front of her pants.

As that scene played out, the vice president of human resources standing next to me in the back of the room suddenly poked me in the side with her elbow, excitingly pointing at one of the four money room counters sitting in the audience who had gasped, violently shook, and started to uncontrollably hyperventilate as her counterpart on the screen frantically stuffed the thick wad of bills down the front of her jeans.

Then the red faced money counter in the audience glanced nervously around, hunching down, white knuckled, realizing everyone was now staring at her, not the thief on the video.

The chronic cash losses in that district immediately leveled off.

This was one of many real life scenarios that have played out across the country when a loss prevention orientation program was introduced.

The orientation consists of presenting the DVD to groups of employees, along with a 2-page orientation handout, a VendingCam memo, a GPS memo, an acknowledgement orientation form, and a loss prevention new hire orientation form.

Following are some other real life scenarios.


The small break room was jammed with the first group of employees gathered to watch a video no one seemed to really know anything about. Slumped alongside one wall, a fresh faced, 20-something route driver, constantly yawning in between bored glances at his watch, met my eyes during my opening introduction as if I was Ben Stein during the droning teacher scene in the movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

After the room darkened, I found a wide angle view allowing me to scan the faces in the now flickering light. As the theft videos started two minutes into the 15-minute presentation, I saw the bored route driver’s body jerk and stiffen as his eyes popped open wide.

About halfway through the clip of a route driver pulling a wad of cash from an open machine and stuffing the bills into his wallet, the tall, lean, baby-faced route boy was swallowing so hard I could see his Adam’s apple bobbing. (This was usually the clip that flushed out the obvious.)

As one crystal clear theft scene after another played out with the word “BUSTED!” flashing after the theft, the young route driver had an expression on his face similar to most people when forced to slow down while driving past a sudden, unexpected deadly car accident on the highway, shocked, horrified…yet unable to tear his wide eyes away. It was no coincidence that Ferris Bueller’s route had the worst cash shortage in the company…and it was no accident the unexplainable losses immediately ended.


As the DVD ended and a snappy guitar riff filled the break room, the lights flashed on and I darted to the front, making sure I made and held direct eye contact with the twitchy route driver. I flashed a smile while my eyes bored holes into his.

Yea, it was there…fear. You could almost smell it. During the video, the phrase, “A toad on a hot plate,” came to mind as I watched the route driver watching various employees stealing on the wide screen TV.

Later on, sitting down with the software reports and honing in on the worst cash, product, and waste route in the entire company, there he was, the nervous full line vending “toad on a hot plate.”


Just as you market your products to customers, you can and should market theft deterrence to your employees. It’s not rocket science, and the bottom-line return on investment has proven to be significant.

All of the nation’s major retailers developed theft deterrence marketing programs decades ago. The proven theft deterrence of a powerful loss prevention orientation program was the reason this presentation, “Ripping the Mask Off of Internal Theft” was developed. It has even been brought into manual foodservice operations by a number of clients.


The moment I read these National Automatic Merchandising Association statistics in 2008, I knew they were perfect for the DVD that was percolating in my mind. These statistics will impact and help win over the vast majority of employees, the honest hardworking ones.

• In 1992, the average vending industry profit was 6.2 percent of gross sales. In 2007 it had dropped to 0.9 percent.
• $9.00 in loss prevention/operational savings delivers the same profit as an additional $1,000 in new location sales.
• Saving $256 per month has the same impact as adding a $340,000 per year ($6,600 per week) route.
• Every dollar saved equates to $110 in average industry sales contribution.

I am always amazed by the reactions of some of the dishonest employees I opened this article with, but there is a positive, double-edged sword reaction when presenting the loss prevention program to the vast majority of employees.


The impact of what a stolen or wasted dollar means to the company that provides them with their livelihood and their personal job security has a wide and deep impact, especially in these uncertain times.

Don’t underestimate the common-sense self interest of the vast majority or the importance of communicating to them what the few rotten apples in the barrel are doing to the barrel.

I learned two facts about dishonest employees a long time ago: most of the dishonest ones develop their bad behavior over time, and some who regularly commit internal theft will stop when indirectly confronted with the ugly reality of what they are secretly doing.

Announcing the company is focusing on the seven sins noted in the sidebar above and showing employees DVDs of their peers who have had their livelihoods and reputations destroyed by their dishonesty will have an impact.

Physiological loss prevention guerilla warfare tactics have an underestimated positive impact on many who secretly gnaw on the hand that feeds them.

Operator feedback: most employees find loss prevention training beneficial

Several vending operators in different markets have found a loss prevention orientation program helpful.

“The impact of the video was significant and opened the eyes of employees,” said Stan Ledbetter, who with his brother, Steve, own RE Services in Lafayette, Ga. “They were able to see the severe consequences a poor decision can have concerning not only their professional career, but also their personal freedom.”

“The look on the faces of many of our employees when they watch it is priceless,” said Alan Drazen, vice president of Midlantic Vending in Moorestown, N.J. “We have already seen a change in attitude which has had an impact on eliminating the most difficult problems in our industry…theft!”

Rungs of the ‘Vending Theft Ladder’

Loss prevention specialist Mark Manney claims most dishonest workers develop their bad behavior climbing rungs on a deviant ladder, and some who regularly commit the seven “vending sins” will stop when indirectly confronted with the ugly reality of what they are secretly doing.

The rungs on the ladder are:

7) Cash theft
6) Product theft
5) Property theft
4) Fuel theft
3) Time theft
2) Unnecessary product waste
1) Productivity waste and fuel waste