Can Your Smart Phone Set Off Security Alarms In Stores?

We didn't steal anything, promise!      

Has this happened to you? You’re shopping at the mall—and that's shopping, not shoplifting. Then, boom: You walk out of a store, and the security alarm goes off! And, now everyone in the store is giving you side-eye.

“That's where you have what we call in the industry an FTD, a ‘failure to deactivate,’ says Retail Loss Prevention Group, Inc CEO Keith Aubele, CPP, LPP. “You've purchased an item, you're walking out the door and all of a sudden, security or someone from the store is approaching you.”

Embarrassing! If you didn’t steal anything and the alarm goes off, that means you're carrying or wearing an item with a security tag that somehow didn’t get deactivated by a cashier. Anti-theft systems have been around for decades, and can only be set off by a live tag—not your smart phone, or anything like that.

“The security systems today that are commonly used set up almost like a radar field in the doorway of a store so that when a tag gets between the antennas, there’s a signal that's being bounced back off the tag, and it will ring,” Mike from HarryG Security explained (the source preferred not to use his last name.)

It could be from one of those giant plastic security tags that are impossible to remove, but retailers also embed tags into garments at the factory. The tags are deactivated at the cash register at the point of sale.

When a cashier forgets to deactivate the tag, that’s when things go awry. Usually, you'll grab the shopping bag and set off the alarm as you're leaving. Then you show the employee your receipt and he or she will deactivate the item's sensor.

But customers often leave a store with a purchase that has a live tag and never know it, says Mike. “The system could be off, it could be not working, there are a lot of reasons why the customer can make it out of the store without the tag going off.”

Now that purse or sweater you're wearing is going to set off alarms whenever you shop. “Any time you walk into a retailer it's usually that same type of system that's going to activate when you walk out—until you identify that's the problem and you get someone to deactivate that for you,” Keith says.

There’s no way to turn the tag off yourself. You’re just going to keep setting off alarm until you can figure out what item you’re wearing has a tag in it.

“If you are in a situation where you are an honest buyer, insist that they locate the location of that tag and deactivate it once and for all so that you don't ever have to be concerned with that—especially if it's on an item like a handbag that you're going to be carrying into other retail locations,” Keith says. Anything to stop those annoying alarms, and save us some embarassment.

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