This node was inspired by How to get past the alarm gates in retail stores.

I was heading to the Barnes and Noble because, dammit, I could. No classes that day, no nothing, and I was sick of being cooped up in that dank, dripping cave the university deigned to call an 'apartment'. The thing was that I could get to Barnes and Noble, but not inside - a gaggle of people were standing right at the doorway, listening, laughing, watching two men at the center of the group. One was waving an X-Acto knife this way and that, illustrating the story he was telling with slashes through the air to punctuate. The other merely filled in details here and there - mostly, he just had that happy hangdog look of someone who knows he's been gotten by a prank, and gotten good.

This is apparently what the first man did.

First, he gained control of his friend's wallet. I missed this part of the story; I assume he simply picked his friend's pocket, although you, dear reader, may find more elegant ways of going about this. He needed the wallet so he could get his grubby mitts on his friend's driver's license. In Oklahoma, the driver's license is a sheet of paper encased in hard laminate.

From there, he grabbed a random book from the bookshelf and located the security sticker therein. For those not in the know, Barnes and Noble puts squares of metal-stamped paper inside of their books. When these squares pass through the front-door security gates without being demagnetized, the alarm goes off. Well, this man found the security sticker. He had brought in an X-Acto knife and a lighter; he had the driver's license and the security sticker; now, the prank would commence.

He slit open the side of the driver's license with the X-Acto knife, right on the edge, where the two sheets of hard laminate joined. He then slipped the security sticker into the license (on the backside, so it didn't cover up the picture on the front) and sealed the laminate with the cigarette lighter. The driver's license was now rigged, and beautifully so; I got to inspect the license, and the only whiff of tampering came from the fact that the license contained something it shouldn't have. It was otherwise pristine.

The wallet was returned to the owner. They left, rather, attempted to leave the store, but an insistent bright, flashing light and a few overzealous employees kept them from escaping. I understand that it took over half-an-hour for the prankster to reveal the nature of his cunning ruse; by then, a crowd had gathered, and he gave everyone the rundown on how they could embarass friends and family with this simple trick.

I recall that a friend said a year later that the employees there had stopped responding to the shoplifting alarm; likely due to the constant recurrences of pranks. Now anyone could walk out with ill-gotten goods, crying wolf the whole way - none of the employees believed in real theft anymore.

The only legal place a store can stop you for shoplifting is the door, and in order to do that security needs to see you take a book and follow you (whether in person or electronically) to the exit. It's kinda obvious if a guy in a uniform is tailing you and cameras can't be looking everywhere at once (or rather, the poor shmoe looking at the camera feeds can't be covering the whole store at once) so some large stores employ undercover security guards to track potential thieves to the door. You could walk into a Barnes and Noble, take a large stack of books and blatantly put them in a bag (THIS IS LEGAL - you can bring, say, your own shopping bag to a supermarket), walk to the exit, turn around, drop the books on a table and walk out without any repercussions.

How does this relate? Well, take the above with this scenario in mind:

You buy a computer game at Software Etc. and head over to Barnes & Noble for a book. The cashier at SE didn't clear the security tag so you set off B&N's alarm when you walk in (they use the same security systems and Software Etc. is owned by B&N). No one notices. You wander around, don't find anything you want and head for the door again. On the way out you set off the alarm again.

You know you didn't steal anything, therefore security couldn't have seen you steal anything and followed you to the exit, therefore they have no legal reason to stop you, therefore you have no legal reason to stop.

The security checkpoints are there as a deterrent, nothing more. You can breeze right through them if you set 'em off and nobody can do anything about it unless they've got proof that you're stealing. If they had proof, believe me they will physically stop you. Neat, no?

Oh, and just so you know: Barnes & Noble only tags about 10% of their books. You'd be amazed how many people believe that a book's UPC Symbol sets off the alarms. I've seen people rip the barcodes out of the backs of cheap romance novels and make off with 'em.

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