Inside the University of Florida's anti-shoplifting 'store'

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We see crazy robbery attempts caught on security camera all the time.  But at a "store" in Gainesville, the crimes are on purpose, and the cameras are only a small part of the picture.

That’s where University of Florida researchers are getting inside the mind of a shoplifter, with the help of new technology like “synthetic DNA." 

The goo is being tested at the school’s "store lab" as a way for police to catch thieves red-handed -- or should we say, "blue handed”?

When a would-be thief triggers the alarm, a special substance sprays down on them and shows up blue on their skin under a black light. Invisible to the naked eye, the marks from the spray remain on skin for up to six weeks.

“It's not made anywhere else in the world, so we can say with absolute certainty if you find this on someone's skin they were in this location when this thing went off,” explained Mike Giblin, the lab's senior research scientist.

It's just one of the cutting-edge tactics they try out to help fight theft.

Dr. Read Hayes, the director of the Loss Prevention Council, says they've interviewed hundreds of shoplifters over the years. He says robberies are getting more violent due to all of the new expensive products out there. 

"Smart phones, pharmaceuticals,” he said, ticking down the list.  “Consumer goods like premium razorblades. Tide, logo apparel, premium handbags.”

That's why the lab focuses on stopping a crime before it happens, working with stores in the area for real-world testing on their methods or products. 

"How do we influence that decision -- no, or not now, or not here," he continued.

We got an inside look at their research in action. They attack loss-prevention by experimenting with social media, and also are studying where to place cameras and lighting -- both outside and inside.

"This one has shown promise," Giblin said, demonstrating some cameras placed at the entrance.  “Essentially offenders think it has facial recognition tech built into it, when in reality all it does is detect geometry of two eyes and a mouth."

And they define "the asset.”

"It could be a person, a safe, a cash register, merchandise. Whatever a target might be," said Hayes.

Then, they design ways to frustrate and stop a thief. 

"There are things like peg hooks to prevent theft -- being as simple as just having a bump so you can’t grab them all at once so you can't sweep them into a basket -- all the way to push-button; press a button to advance forward," Giblin said.

They're even placing alarms inside product boxes that are triggered to sound a loud alarm if the density changes when someone pulls the item out.


Some sensors track stacks of cash. Others respond to light, so if someone tries to hide them under clothing, they would start to beep.

Another effective method? Reducing the reward if they do make it out of the store, like special codes activated by clerks at checkout that the product can't work without.

The key is to send a message of control, making people feel like there are eyes on them all the time.

And one more added layer of protection? Barry Manilow.  It’s no joke. Researchers found out playing classical music -- or some Barry Manilow -- deters loitering, which can lead to shoplifting.