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If you believe a theft is in progress, you need to take immediate action. Doing so will increase your chances of recovering stolen items as well as stopping the thief in his/her tracks. Review your theft response actions, ideally before a theft occurs, with your supervisor and your organization’s board.

See Warning Signs to learn some signs of suspicious behaviors.

See Manage Use of Records to learn how to intervene if you see suspicious behavior.

Theft-in-Progress: Researcher or Visitor

With theft-in-progress, the don’ts are as important as the dos.


  • Do not detain, confront, or interrogate the subject.
  • Do not touch or physically search the subject.
  • Do not speak to the subject without another staff member present.


  • Discreetly alert a supervisor (and security staff, if you have one) so as not to tip off the subject or others in the research room.
  • Engage the subject. Taking a customer service approach has been effective in halting thefts-in-progress. Ask if they require additional assistance or if they have found everything they are looking for.
  • Remind the subject of the rules, but refrain from making accusations. This attention may prompt the subject to replace items before leaving the premises.
  • If interaction with a suspicious subject devolves into confrontation, summon a supervisor.
  • Redirect any surveillance cameras onto the subject, if possible.
  • Do not attempt to stop a fleeing subject, but do attempt to get their license plate number or vehicle make and model.
  • Conduct a routine exit search of the subject’s research materials upon exit, if authorized.
  • Prepare an incident report that includes the name of the subject, any identifying characteristics, the records accessed, and the date/time of the incident. Any other staff who witnessed the incident should submit an independent Incident Report or witness statement.
    Incident Report Tips
  • In consultation with your supervisor and security staff, contact the appropriate law enforcement agency if there is clear evidence of theft.
  • Print out a copy of What to Do When… and keep it in a desk drawer in the reference room for staff to refer to during an incident or theft-in-progress.
    What to Do When There Is an Incident or a Theft-In-Progress

Theft-in-Progress: Staff

Knowing how to respond to suspicious behavior exhibited by a staff member is challenging.  There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The appropriate response will vary from institution to institution depending on size and governance. And then there are the inevitable questions:  What is your reporting relationship with the suspected thief?  How can you be sure that he/she does not have cohorts?

For most co-workers the idea of such betrayal is unthinkable and too easily dismissed.  Here are some considerations.

  • Know the Warning Signs.
  • Check you organization’s Human Resources policies, if applicable, to determine if there are existing guidelines for reporting fraud or abuse on the job.
  • If you see something, say something. If you have evidence of or have witnessed theft by staff, you must report it.
  • Report your concern to your supervisor.  If you perceive that he/she might have a conflict of interest, report up the line.
  • Do not share your suspicions casually with colleagues. Don’t gossip or spread rumors.