The restaurant manager’s home phone rang. She recognized the cell phone number of her shift manager on the display. Before she could say “Hello” she heard a loud, frantic voice declaring, “I was robbed!” The shift manager then described the frightful event of being robbed at gunpoint while on way to the bank with the deposit. On a fairly desolate street the shift manager described stopping behind a stalled vehicle. Suddenly her driver’s side door was yanked open, and a gun was pointed at her face. The gunman then demanded the deposit that was lying on the passenger seat. When she picked up the deposit, the gunman grabbed and jumped into the front passenger seat of the vehicle in front of her. The car then sped off.
She said the robber was a male and was wearing a dark colored hoodie but did not get a good look at his face. The shift manager stated she tried to get a license plate number, but the car did not have one. She did notice that car was a white, older model with only the driver and the robber inside. The shift manager said the police were now arriving and she would call back after she talked with them. The manager gave her shift manager words of comfort and said she would come in to the restaurant since the shift manager was shaken and emotionally upset.
The manager met the shift manager at the restaurant, and the event was described once again in a tearful monologue. the manager listened with empathy and when the shift manager finally calmed down a bit, the manager sent her home to rest. The manager made a mental note to contact the Employee Assistance Program to possibly provide some counseling for her shift manager. The next day, the shift manager called off work stating she was still apprehensive about working. The manager said she understood and gave her the contact information for counseling.
This is a tragic story. And that is just what it was – a story. A made up story; and none of it was true. The shift manager was financially desperate and stole the deposit. She concocted the robbery incident to cover the theft. The police spent many man hours gathering facts about the incident and the descriptions of the suspect and vehicle. They scoured the area with many police units and had deployed a helicopter in the search of the vehicle and gunman.
The police investigators quickly cracked the fictitious robbery story, and the manager was arrested. She was charged not only with the theft of the deposit, but also filing a false police report. The police were not happy with wasting resources on a bogus armed robbery. The restaurant manager was devastated. She could not understand how her employee could make up a false story of such magnitude. She had been convinced that it was all true. The manager had worked with her for several years and had trusted her. Blinded by that trust, the manager had missed some subtle signs of desperation from her shift manager.
Robbery detectives and experienced loss-prevention professionals investigate many armed robberies. When robberies involve large sums of business cash and have no witnesses, the alleged victim may be subject to greater examination. Verbal and written statements are analyzed carefully looking for clues of deception. Investigators listen for changes in the story or sequence of events. They note essential elements that are omitted from the narrative and the physical mannerisms of the employee that may indicate they are not telling the truth. The questions from the experienced investigator probe for veracity without traumatizing a true victim of an armed robbery.
The restaurant owner or manager may assist investigators during investigations like this by providing additional insight. It may assist investigators to be informed of any recent changes in the employee’s behavior or work habits, indications of financial difficulties, such as a vehicle repossession, or volunteering to take deposits to the bank. Bank deposit records should be analyzed for indications of “rolling” deposits.
In an incident like this, the internal investigation should include a review of the employee’s POS and cash management reports for excessive activity or manipulation that may be suspicious or indicate theft. Investigators should be advised of unusual or out-of-character activity involving the employee.
The falsely reported robbery is generally a plotted desperate act. When it crashes as a hoax, there are several victims. The police for their wasted search efforts; the other employees who feared and empathized for their fellow employee who claimed they were robbed – and you. They believed they could get away with stealing the money through the planned charade, lying to the police, and the most heinous part of all – yanking on your emotions, banking on your relationship and trust in them.
Of course, a robbery with no witnesses is not always fictitious; in fact, just the opposite. But it does happen, particularly when an employee becomes desperate and the elements of the theft triangle are present: Opportunity, Motive, and Low Risk of Detection. They have reasons for doing it. It’s just not clear until the investigation unravels them.
Remain open to the possibility that a report of an armed robbery by your employee could be bogus, particularly when there are no witnesses, the business funds were stolen, and indicators of desperation are present. The indicators, that until now, you may have never considered.
D.B. “Libby” Libhart has more than 30 years of experience in the loss prevention industry. He has provided security and safety leadership in retail settings such as department stores, drug stores and quick-service restaurants. Before launching his own company, LossBusters, Libby served as the Senior Director of U.S. Security and Safety for McDonald’s Corp. He entered the QSR industry with Taco Bell and subsequently YUM Brands.