How do I get off some sort of suspected shoplifter list.
December 23, 2016 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Almost every retail store I shop at, large and small, thinks I'm a shoplifter. I have never shoplifted and have never been arrested for such. I have passed it off as profiling but because of comments made and the universality of the response, even in different parts of state( Michigan) I believe I am on a database that retail stores subscribe to. How does one appeal to get off the list.

In the past some crazy old coots I think have suspected me. But I have never even eaten a grape at a grocery store. This has gone on for years. Is facial recognition software being used. If I can't get off the list how can I change my appearance to defeat that. I have never charged with any crime in my life.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I really really don't think any such database exists.

What do you mean when you say they 'think you're a shoplifter'? What 'comments made' are you referring to? And when you say you thought it might be profiling - what would you be being profiled as?

Really, it sounds as if you may be so scared of being suspected as a shoplifter that you act really awkward and cagey in retail situations, which might make people think you're up to no good.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:15 AM on December 23, 2016 [36 favorites]

I've never encountered a Shoplifter Database in my time in retail--the closest is a database of employee theft, and internal lists of people who are barred from the premises (which might involve facial recognition at VERY big companies, but this is new enough that it's been making news as 'revolutionary' in 2016, is hideously expensive, and is really that store's private, not-for-sale database). Even if there is one that is being sold nationwide, no small shop is going to subscribe to it or have the ability to use facial recognition software, because it is incredibly expensive. Like, "even if it did exist (which I don't think it does) it would probably be more than the rent and salaries for almost all small shops" expensive to (a) subscribe to the database (b) have high-resolution cameras capable of distinguishing faces, and the storage to store the resulting gigs and gigs of video footage and stills (c) pay a license for facial-recognition software (d) somehow hook the facial-recognition software up to alert regular (not loss-prevention) employees in a way that doesn't then alert the shoplifter.

I realize that you're anonymous, but what behaviour makes you think you are being treated as a shoplifter? If it's 'being nearby' or people proactively asking you questions ("Can I help you today?"), a certain amount of that is normal in stores and if often mandated by corporate.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 10:21 AM on December 23, 2016 [9 favorites]

Also: are you an ethnic minority in your area? Could this be 'shopping while black'? Could it be your anxiety about being taken for a shoplifter making you act in a way that makes you suspicious? (I was very tense when approaching doors to shops when I had something--turned out to be my wallet--setting off alarms about 50% of the time, and I noticed more staff interest as a result.)
posted by flibbertigibbet at 10:27 AM on December 23, 2016 [10 favorites]

I've worked in and managed retail stores in NYC and I've never heard of this. From that same experience: the profiling going on for suspected shoplifters (esp. if you're, for instance, a younger person of color) is pretty damn intense and can get hostile.
posted by griphus at 10:28 AM on December 23, 2016 [9 favorites]

Well, this does appear to exist - though I don't know how much it is used. Another article on it here. It is possible you *look* like someone who has been caught and put into the system - it sounds like the system retailers are implementing doesn't work great.

There could also in theory be something going on with your phone being tracked - though I don't know what it would be. You might test this by turning your phone off or leaving it in the car the next time you go shopping.

How do you get off any list? I'd honestly ask to speak to a manager the next time it happens. Let them know that you are concerned about how you are being treated. Ask directly if they use this technology and then demand that they update it. Possibly consider contacting a lawyer if you find that they are using the technology and refuse to update the information.
posted by Toddles at 10:37 AM on December 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am also interested in understanding how you feel suspected. Do people say something directly or is it the way they behave? I agree that either your suspicion about this is giving you a suspicious vibe or else you are misinterpreting something.

I am an admittedly young-looking 35, but I think the reason I am almost always carded for alcohol is because I look guilty. I don't feel guilty now, but I spent many of my formative years purchasing alcohol underage and praying to get away with a really bad fake ID. Now that's just what my face looks like when it buys the whiskey.
posted by juliplease at 10:59 AM on December 23, 2016 [9 favorites]

Toddles -- I saw that same article, but the article is for a company's internal shoplifter list, only registers people previously "caught stealing from us," (which OP did not do) and is noted as being very new (which doesn't explain why it happened "in the past" or at small companies). There's no in-article discussion of trying to license this information beyond the company.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 11:00 AM on December 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Even if facial-recognition systems for individual stores exist, I don't believe there is a such a national database sharing information between companies and including small businesses. I suspect it's something about your appearance (maybe racial profiling as you suggest, or maybe you have a look such as tattoos/piercings, dirty/ripped clothes, or something else that's making these people associate you with a subculture that they think is prone to lawbreaking,) or about the way you act or respond to them, or else you're misinterpreting the usual customer service overattentiveness as suspicion.

The technology to create the sort of system you're envisioning is right about at the limit of technical achievability today, but it would not be affordable or practical for small businesses to implement, and how would your name have gotten on the list in the first place?

Also, and I hate to say this to someone who may very well be experiencing real problems of racial/cultural discrimination, but I feel obliged to mention that the specifics of even this very small bit of text you've written made me immediately wonder if you might be suffering from a delusional disorder. The sort of themes you mention (being singled out for persecution by an extremely advanced, unseen and ubiquitous surveillance apparatus) are very, very common to people with such disorders, and your description reminds me a lot of things I've heard from loved ones in that state. Again, it's not the only explanation for your experience, but your writing voice sounds so familiar to me that I felt I had to say something about it, and to suggest that if other people who care about you are saying anything similar you should consider talking to a psychologist about it.
posted by contraption at 11:13 AM on December 23, 2016 [85 favorites]

I've also never heard anything about a suspected shoplifter's list. In the past, I've talked with the plain clothes anti-theft people at a retail big box store I worked at at the time. They'd have periodic meetings to update people on the most recent people of interest, who'd either been doing suspicious stuff, or been caught stealing (regardless of if the confidence was enough to have police were called). There wasn't even any sharing of this info from different stores in the same franchise, much less from different stores.

I'll note that some retailers do have lists for customers who return too many items as a percent of what they buy. They'll then either fire them as customers if they're online or member based, or hassle them at customer service if they company is a more typical brick and mortar location.

On preview: I deleted a few paragraphs of trying to say what contraption said in their last paragraph.
posted by nobeagle at 11:19 AM on December 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I used to work retail security at a big box store. We didn't have any sort of service or technology - we were still using photos of people actually caught at neighboring stores in a binder. This sounds like profiling, sadly :(
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:38 AM on December 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

If not profiling, I wonder if it could it be paranoia that results in actions that make you appear suspicious?

For example, you're glancing at the store staff repeatedly wondering if they are watching you. This makes them watch you more closely wondering if you're trying to find an opportunity to make off with merchandise. Sometimes worrying about something makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But if it could be racial profiling, this is moot.
posted by cecic at 11:45 AM on December 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

My father used to have a similar problem when he paid by check in a store. My mom could write a check no problem, but they'd ask him for ID etc. etc. He makes weird eye contact, which is what was setting off the cashiers. They thought he looked shifty.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 11:52 AM on December 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

They are not using facial recognition, yet. Publically-available systems are not good enough or cheap enough for store chains to adapt them and use them to refuse service.

Retail employees can't tell who you are just by looking at you; no stranger can do that. I second the idea that you're emitting some kind of vibe or have some subconscious behavior that sets off people's suspicion. It's not a technological thing; for some reason, you "look suspicious." Could be something about your appearance in particular, or it could be some general bias against people who look like you that's found in retail employees. Most likely some from column A, some from column B.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:27 PM on December 23, 2016

The technology to create the sort of system you're envisioning is right about at the limit of technical achievability today, but it would not be affordable or practical for small businesses to implement

No one has mentioned that it might well be illegal or at least expose its users to huge liability risks if that database included people never convicted of shoplifting.
posted by spitbull at 12:28 PM on December 23, 2016

Do you carry a big bag or wear a coat with gaping pockets? I got this a lot and it stopped as soon as I swapped my canvas satchel for a small leather handbag...
posted by KateViolet at 1:03 PM on December 23, 2016 [9 favorites]

Profiling definitely goes on and yes, it's often racial. You may also be targeted for extra attention if you carry a bag or frequent high-shrink areas, or if you take merchandise from one place and leave it in another. In addition, retail managers often get a bee in their bonnet that someone is stealing from them and that it's someone they see regularly and haven't suspected in the past, so they start "customer-servicing" people very aggressively. If you are dealing with a big box store, everyone wants to be the one in their district to bust the professional shoplifting ring or whatever.

Unless it is racial profiling, I wouldn't worry about trying to get it to stop, just assume they are doing what they think is their job in a dumb way. If you think it is racial I would complain up the ladder, if it's a corporate outfit, or to the store owner. It's just infuriating. I had a manager tell me (a salesperson) to follow people who were not white. I'd say, "You follow them."
posted by BibiRose at 1:11 PM on December 23, 2016

Agreeing with possible profiling, or your fears over this leading you to behave nervously in stores, and that triggering attention.

Are you by chance quite young? Profiling is not limited to PoC; teens get it pretty extensively too. I noticed that as I aged, the odds of a guard checking me out went down to 0. I am now a middle-aged mother and could probably waltz out of a store with a boatload of stolen goods. It's happened a number of times that one of us has a RFID tag not de-activated from another store (or not snipped out of a new garment or whatever) and we've set off door alarms. At that junction I get "Sorry, it must be malfunctioning! Just go ahead, apologies!" Nobody has ever asked to look in our bags, a targeted demographic. It's a bit unsettling.

When I was a teenager and noticed I was being followed/looked at with interest, I had fairly good luck cutting it off at the path by being friendly. "Hi! I'm looking for some grosgrain ribbon -- could you help me find some if you carry it? No? Ah, pity. Can you recommend another store, blah blah blah... I also need an X... Thank you!" Not that anybody should have to do that, but it might be a technique to try.

Baggy clothing with big pockets/a big tote bag as mentioned could also be part of it, especially if your face is also partially obscured (ball cap, hoodie with hood up).
posted by kmennie at 1:38 PM on December 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Are you by any chance a young, black male? Do you like to browse without buying? Do you wear baggy clothes and/or carry a backpack. Has your previous experience made you anxious while shopping? Do you frequently check to see if store staff are watching you?

There really isn't some giant shoplifter database but the store staff will all get similar training in what to suspicious characteristics to look out for.

If you're being followed and you're not doing anything wrong, just ignore it. Be relaxed and remember, you're doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear (just don't put stuff in your pockets/bag for convenient carrying to pay for later, get a basket!)
posted by missmagenta at 1:43 PM on December 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I work as a marketing consultant for a technology integrator that resells a video analytics "solution" (cameras + analytics software). While police services may be using this technology already, retail businesses are not. At this time, "early adopter" retailers (typically very large chains) are using the technology in two ways:

1) to track the "customer journey" through the store to see where people are browsing, and how they interact with merchandise. In time it will be possible to "tag" individual customers and provide them with offerings at the cash register.

2) monitoring for theft by identifying suspicious behavior. Typically this is monitoring a certain location within the store and analyzing behavior. Or monitoring a doorway or something. Monitoring loitering.

Looking at our product, and our competitors' products I haven't seen facial recognition being used at all.
posted by My Dad at 3:01 PM on December 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

What context is this in? I don't interact with store workers enough for them to know my name, much less tell me I'm suspected of anything.

I however have heard of databases for people who return a lot of things and get extra scrutiny.
posted by TheAdamist at 4:25 PM on December 23, 2016

Weating a coat with large pockets, carrying a big bag, not using a shopping basket or cart, wearing a hoodie, being young, being from a minority some people are prejudiced against, looking poor, etc. I suspect you are fitting at least one part of their mental stereotype of what a shoplifter looks like. Being concerned about their perception of course makes it worse - you more you look around to see if you are being watched, the more you look like a shoplifter.
Dressing a bit more smartly to fit a different stereotype would make the problem go away, I think.
posted by w0mbat at 5:00 PM on December 23, 2016

For what it's worth, I own a retail shop and have never heard of a list of shoplifters, or anything that could be used to identify or profile individual shoplifters.
posted by workerant at 7:04 PM on December 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

worked retail several years, corporate AND small business, never heard of a 'list of shoplifters'. Did have one customer leave in a huff over thinking he was being profiled/followed, but in fact I was just shadowing him because he smelled exactly like rain on a Northern California coast hillside, bay leaves and sagebrush and petrichor, incredibly appealing, and I was trying to get the nerve up to ask him about it...
posted by The otter lady at 12:43 AM on December 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

Nthing that I've worked retail before and the only "list" maintained was of people suspected/known for shoplifting from our store. Now, we did collaborate a little bit with other retail stores when I worked at a used media store that bought DVDs--when people came in with armloads of new movies they almost certainly didn't watch (i.e. Coming in on a Tuesday with 5 copies each of the newest releases)--we would process the teansaction as usual, but require a receipt, and if a store called us saying, "Hey, Joe Schmo just swiped a bunch of new releases from us" we would alert the police and ban the person. But this was always an alert based on suspicious BEHAVIOR first, not a random name on a list.
posted by epj at 2:39 PM on December 24, 2016

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