Organized retail crime, according to RILA (Retail Industry Leaders Association), is a $34 billion a year problem. A study at the University of Florida conducted by Dr. Richard Hollinger suggests that 9 percent of all refund activity or $16 billion is fraudulent.  

At most merchants today, refunds are tracked with personal information. While this was effective 10 years ago, the information in the current databases might not be as accurate as it once was.

Personal and financial information is stolen and sold in a lot of places, most notably over the Internet. A perfect example is the recent compromise of consumer data at TJX stores. This information is turned into fraudulent identification and financial instruments and sold to criminals.

It is likely that criminals can assume multiple identities, using other people’s information to refund merchandise. In fact, payment (credit/debit) card and bad check fraudsters already demonstrate this ability on a daily basis.

With the negative publicity surrounding data breaches and identity theft, honest customers are nervous when asked to surrender their personal details. Recently, privacy groups and Senator Chuck Schumer have been openly critical of current systems, which gather personal information.

A company named SIRAS provides a means to protect an organization’s bottom line and their customer information, also. The way they do it is so simple, it’s brilliant. Instead of tracking personal information, SIRAS tracks the merchandise, itself.  

The SIRAS system captures the UPC and serial number of a product at the point-of-sale and creates an electronic receipt. This enables a merchant to determine exactly when and where it was sold AND how it was paid for.

SIRAS can tell when the merchandise was never purchased (stolen), or if it was purchased at another retailer. It also can identify counterfeit merchandise, price switching and altered/counterfeit receipts. Because it ties into a sales transaction, the system could also identify fraudulent forms of payment used to purchase the merchandise, or if the item has been a chargeback issue.

SIRAS makes it pretty hard do a fraudulent refund. Getting series of numbers to match can be extremely difficult, if not almost, impossible.

The data is compiled into customized reporting tools, which can be leveraged to determine risk factors when merchandising products. These tools also have extremely useful applications from an intelligence (analysis) and investigation perspective.

Besides organized retail crime, the largest losses suffered by merchants are caused by internal theft. Fraudulent refunds, “sweetheart returns,” enable dishonest employees to steal cash, or issue credit to payment cards. Like their external counterpart, internal criminals now have to use personal information to prompt a point-of-sale system to issue a refund. Again, this information (which might not be accurate) corrupts a lot of the current databases.

Dishonest employees are going to have a hard time being able to match UPC/serial number to a legitimate sale. This will prevent employees from attempting to commit refund fraud, and should they decide to do so, the custom reporting tools (when used properly) would identify the culprits, with ease.

SIRAS can track and identify retail theft a long way past the refund counter. With its unique ability to track merchandise to a sale, SIRAS can be used to identify merchandise sold in fencing operations (and more likely) via Internet auctions.

In fact, SIRAS has been used to help prove criminal cases, or to obtain search warrants by law enforcement.

The system can also be used to identify counterfeit goods, wherever they might be appear for sale.

Other benefits include being able to better manager warranty programs and in the case of call centers (crucial in e-commerce), it provides their employees with direct access to the original purchase information.

An effective merchandising application, I noted was the ability (via analysis) to identify products that have a high rate of being defect rate, or that aren’t as easy to use, as advertised.

SIRAS has applications that go far beyond fraud at the refund counter.

The system is easily incorporated with patented technology into current point of sale systems and employee training is minimal. Being that it replaces many labor intensive tasks, payroll can be better spent in other areas.

SIRAS applications are beneficial not only to manufacturers and traditional retailers, but the system is equally effective in e-commerce applications.

This technology is already being used by several major retailers and manufacturers. You can view a list of them on their website (listed below).

With privacy becoming a bigger issue all the time, SIRAS provides a smart way to protect assets and not expose customer information. SIRAS makes it harder to commit fraud in a retail environment, while making it easier (customer friendly) to return an item without a paper receipt.

More information about SIRAS and who uses their services can be viewed at:

CNET’s story about the TJX data breach can be viewed, here.
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