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Another Reason not to Profile Shoplifters: Sometimes They’re Former College Deans

Published by Ellen on May 8, 2012 4:13 PM

It’s tempting to profile shoplifters. You don’t often imagine shoplifters as mature, hardworking professionals who earn a six-figure salary. Unfortunately it happens and isn’t necessarily all that uncommon. Oftentimes retailers do not pay enough attention to those consumers who don’t fit the profile of how we envision shoplifters. Ex-Purdue University Dean Robert "Pablo" Malavenda has taught retailers a valuable lesson: shoplifters shouldn't be stereotyped. As a college dean, he managed approximately 690 student activities and organizations, including sororities and fraternities.

At the end of last month, Mr. Malavenda pleaded guilty to stealing pumpkins, light bulbs, smoke alarms, and other household items from a Walmart last October. The shoplifting, which took place at the Walmart Supercenter in West Lafayette, Indiana on October 8, 2011, shows Mr. Malavenda on security cameras returning $160.17 worth of goods that he never bought in the first place.

Mr. Malavenda was sneaky in how he carried out his crime. He first purchased some items at a self-checkout stand where no cashiers were present. He then walked back into the Walmart with an empty bag and the receipt from the items he had purchased at the self-checkout stand, and then perused the store shelves to find the exact same items in the hope that he could return the new set of items for cash. In other words, he bought a few items and kept them to himself, and then returned to the store with the original receipt and an empty shopping bag to pull those exact same items off the shelves to return for cash.

Still sound confusing? That’s because it is. Even the judge overseeing the case didn’t understand exactly what occurred when Mr. Malavenda stole and returned these items. Judge Les Meade asked him to clarify what happened on October 8, 2011. Mr. Malavenda responded by saying, “I returned one set of items… but still had the property.” Oh, we get it finally!

Not only should video cameras be installed above the cash registers to monitor employees, but also at eye level to catch shoplifters at self-checkout stands and return stations. We’ll go over prevention strategies to combat retail theft in The Retailer’s Guide to Video Surveillance, slated for release later this month.

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