Outing ‘shoplifters, thieves’ could backfire for businesses

A noticeboard at a Christchurch supermarket that was removed yesterday after being in the...
A noticeboard at a Christchurch supermarket that was removed yesterday after being in the entrance way for several months. Photo: Supplied
Businesses are being warned not to publicly name and shame people they believe have been stealing from their premises.

There has been a growing trend for businesses to put security camera photos of people they suspect of theft in full view of other customers, and on shop windows for people walking by to see.

Police say while it is not illegal for businesses to display security camera photos and post them and video on social media they advised against doing it.

A security camera photo posted outside a dairy. Photo: Supplied
A security camera photo posted outside a dairy. Photo: Supplied
Privacy lawyer Kathryn Dalziel is also concerned, saying it could be a high risk for the business itself.

"Are they absolutely sure they were shoplifting?

"It is a big risk because if they’ve got it wrong, not only have they breached privacy, they’ve also breached defamation and arguably they are harassing them as well,” she said.

In recent weeks, a dairy has put two photos of two teenagers they say shoplifted, accompanied with the words ‘Shop Lifting. if you know him please tell us, and ‘Shop Lifting if you see yourself please come to pay. therwise we’ll report to the police.’

A supermarket had a rogues' gallery billboard in its entrance way calling it the suburb’s “finest.”

A hotel has put a photo on the bar of a customer who is said to have stolen a trailer from the car park.

In the dairy example, the teenagers looked between 14 and 17. The father of one of the boys went into the dairy after the photos were put up and his son was cleared of any wrongdoing.

The store’s owner told Star News the older boy in the photo had stolen from the store multiple times since June.

"He has been stealing things for a long time. The last time he took about $40 in products.”

Asked if it was fair to identify a minor and label them a shoplifter, the owner said "absolutely".

"He was stealing in front of staff.

"We have asked him to stop and he just runs away, I think it is a good warning to other young people,” she said.

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied
The image has now been taken down and the younger boy has been cleared of wrongdoing. Police are investigating.

Senior Sergeant Roy Appley said police understood why businesses were naming and shaming but there was always the chance they had made a mistake.

For example, when posts are made on social media accusing people of crimes and identifying them, about 50 per cent of the time they were innocent.

Appley also said public outing children and young people could have a major effect on them.

"Anybody under the age of 18, who we refer to as a young person, or less than 14 as a child, in my view should never be done [accused publicly] and only be done in the most extreme circumstances,” he said.

"There’s no offence, if you like, for somebody to be putting a picture up and trying to identify someone that’s been in their store.

"The problem always arises with whether or not what they’re alleging the person has done is actually what they have done or  not. Police would prefer that all matter relating to investigations are left to us.”

Dalziel said there are some problems with posting the photo alongside the word “shoplifting.”

"It is absolutely at risk of overstepping our privacy guidelines. It is a very high-risk strategy.

"This sort of shaming people, there is absolutely no evidence that it will produce the outcome you’re hoping for.

"The privacy law says that if it won’t do what you’re trying to achieve then you’re not allowed to do it,” she said.

She said it is important to be 100 per cent sure of being correct before labeling and identifying people publicly.