It’s the most wonderful time of the year - for shoplifters, muggers, and grifters.
“Everyone wants to have a happy and safe holiday season,” opined Drew Werninger, Owner of Cannabis MO Security in St. Louis. “Most people hope for comfort and joy for their family and friends. Sadly,” he added, this is also the reason theft, strong arm robbery and armed robbery hit their peak this time of year. Some individuals feel desperate enough to conduct illegal activity to ensure their loved ones get what they wish for in order to feel like a good provider instead of a disappointment. That is a very powerful emotion that throws risk and caution to the wind.”
Cash-rich businesses like dispensaries are low-hanging fruit for these individuals. They will watch every move you make, from curbside pickup to bank deposits.
And while it’s true that your business operates under these conditions 365 days a year, 2020 has raised the stakes in unique ways. With cannabis consumption at an all-time high in the pandemic, customers are seeking to limit their exposure using curbside pickup. This makes employees vulnerable to hold-ups. “With COVID lockdowns in full effect, and everyone stressed out and trying to pick up a little herbal relief,” noted Daniel Sharkey, CEO of Las Vegas-based cannabis consulting firm Asymmetrix LLC, “it’s easy for dispensary operators to choose to bend the rules and let a few more people in than are legally allowed.” Not following the rules can lead to stress on the entire system - and opportunities for theft.
Sometimes, criminals will have a person on the inside, watching for opportunities, since “holiday help” is considered temporary and may not receive the same vetting as your regular employees. “As an owner,” noted Werninger, “you need to keep in mind that 90% of theft is internal.” That includes staff that might be connected with someone on the outside, maybe even unwittingly disclosing sensitive information of when and where a product, currency, or a large order is being transferred.
Then there are the scammers who look for any weakness that they can exploit. It happens a lot in check cashing, payday lending, and other financial services. And now, dispensaries. One scam, according to a source, is “people call into the stores, saying that ‘you need to pay for an audit; it has to be paid in cash, and you need to go drop it off at these sites.’” It can happen when the boss is unavailable (like on a plane) and the loss can run to tens of thousands of dollars.
When you’re in a cash business, observed Kirsten Trusko, GSD, and CEO/Co-Founder Emerging of Markets Coalition (EMC), “people commit fraud by trading on your insecurity.” Trusko said a lot of employee weak spots can be addressed with training, with employers telling employees, “I don't care who calls you, unless I walk in this door and tell you to open that safe and hand it out. You're not giving it to anybody.” And, she continued, “it can serve as a springboard for additional education - making a positive out of it with more consideration toward best practices.”
In addition to employee training, Sharkey said that having tech assistance, like facial recognition, can help prevent problems from arising. “Masks don’t hide identities: your guard may not be able to identify a person wearing a mask, but a good facial recognition software program can tell you who the masked person walking in the door is, whether they have a history of violent crime, warrants, or are simply not who their ID says they are (underage buyers). It may be a bit of an investment, but it’s an invaluable tool in crime prevention and investigation.”
The last tool in theft and fraud prevention is vigilance, said Werninger. “Talk to your staff about customers acting strangely, nervous, avoiding eye contact and looking where surveillance equipment is located. Have your security personnel check the perimeter on a regular basis. The person on the bench across the street out of the surveillance eye might be spotting easy targets exiting your facility or passing that information on to others waiting nearby. The same can be said for strange occupied parked vehicles staying for long periods of time.”
But above all, warned Sharkey, don’t let the potential of crime affect the way you treat people: “Be extra polite and friendly. Everyone is stressed out, so the last thing you need is for your business to get bad reviews because a stressed-out holiday shopper didn’t feel properly welcomed in your establishment. Be understanding of the state of mind of your customers. Most of them have had a rough year, so make them feel extra welcome and at peace - the way your products will make them feel when they get home.”