Some local retailers think they’ve found a clever way to catch shoplifters: by posting images of them on Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks.
Plato’s Closet, a resale store in Overland Park, Kansas, says shoplifters often walk out with hundreds of dollars’ worth of merchandise. The store recently began posting security camera images of people spotted shoplifting on its Facebook page and asking the public to help it identify them. It sarcastically calls the posts “Customers of the Day” and adds additional information, such as the believed shoplifters’ outfits, tattoos and other details that could help identify them.
So far, using social media to nab shoplifters has been effective and led to several arrests, manager Brittany West told local news station KCTV. “We try and catch them when we can, but of course people get away and we find it on the cameras,” West said. By posting suspects’ images on Facebook, “we are constantly getting information on who those people are.”
Morties Boutique in West Frankfort, Illinois recently caught a suspected shoplifter by posting information about her—including photo “selfies” she took of herself in a stolen dress—on Facebook. “With having the cameras, now we've been able to catch the people,” co-owner Kert Williams told news station KSDK. “We've had an instance before where we caught the people, you know, posting on Facebook. It's a way of shame."
Haute Mommies and Bella Babies, an upscale maternity and baby boutique in Clear Lake, Texas, posted surveillance video of a suspected shoplifter on Facebook last December and within days, thought it spotted its stolen merchandise being sold on a virtual garage sale.
Shoplifting is a major problem for many small stores, and the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention estimates that more than $13 billion worth of goods are stolen from retailers each year.
While crowdsourcing shoplifter identification using social media may be effective, the growing practice is controversial and brings up ethical dilemmas. For one, what if your social media network “catches” the wrong person and, in the process, drags his or her name and reputation through the mud? (Lawsuit, anyone?) What about privacy rights and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty?
Local police departments, which also increasingly using social media to catch criminals, also aren’t always keen on the practice. Columbus, Ohio police Sgt. Richard Weiner advises retailers to turn over surveillance of suspected shoplifters to police rather than posting it on social media “to avoid the legal pitfalls that may arise from misidentifying suspects online,” according to ColumbusCEO.com.
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