Robert Hunter, a pseudonym, is a professional hotel thief. He prefers cash, although he values guns, jewellery, and precious objects, too. He has a well-established route from Las Vegas to Florida’s major tourism centres with occasional side trips to New York and Toronto to “attend” conventions.
After several years of stealing guest’s property and causing untold damage to the reputation of many a fine hotel, a security employee in Florida, where crime is taken seriously, finally caught him.
Many hoteliers fail to understand and believe that thieves specializing in hotel burglaries exist. They exist and their numbers are growing. Now they use more sophisticated techniques.
Both guests and managements often make easy committing crime.
It is very easy to check into a hotel, receive a key and then go to the front office for the key of another, occupied room. Now with room cards instead of keys this venue has been effectively closed. Yet, there are still many small hotels that use keys.
Room clerks, generally, neglect to ask and verify the name of the person asking for a room key and occasionally don’t even bother to look at the board to see whether or not the room is occupied.
This provides welcome opportunities to thieves to accumulate a large number of keys, from different hotels ad use them at a later date. It is best, to issue identity cards to guest checking in. This helps prevent burglaries.
The growth of a sub-culture of professional burglars who prey primarily on hotel- and motel guests together with a higher incidence of armed robberies in the lodging industry during the past few years prompted hoteliers to design and implement measures to protect guest’s and their property.
The best way to implement adequate and effective security is at the design stage, if a relatively safe key system can be incorporated into the design. Key control systems after construction can help, but are likely to expensive and less effective.
Several lock manufacturers offer systems designed with reduction of theft in mind. One such is the introduction of card key systems, that allow changing the code on the lock after every check in or similarly to lock out a `non-paying guest.
Large hotels can afford to operate security departments headed by ex-police or FBI officers
Well versed in investigative techniques. Their established contacts with local police stations, they can communicate and obtain valuable information quickly.
An information gathering and distribution system between all hotels in a region can also render invaluable service to all security staff.
Front line staff, and security play a key public relations role, and influence any hotel’s reputation, i.e knowing how best to approach a suspected intruder may mean the difference between putting the guest’s mind at ease and eliciting a lawsuit for defamation of character.
Large American hotel chains hire retired FBI agents to teach their security chiefs updated techniques to prevent crime prove to be good investments.
Security staff must balance discretion with firmness. If someone appears suspiciously lurking around in corridors, the officer should approach the individual and offer assistance. The next step is to mildly interrogate, and if explanations are unsatisfactory a trespassing form should be filled out and filed. If this happens a second time, the suspect may be threatened with arrest and criminal trespass
Spotting true potential troublemakers is difficult. While some tell tale signs are instantly revealing (poorly dressed people wondering round aimlessly, darting into the lobby restroom ad exit – others are less visible.
Prevention is always better than detection. Much security is practiced in a grey zone. Anticipating crime can be first step toward prevention. In large city downtown hotels prostitutes present serious problems. Predominantly male conventions attract specialized discreet and elegantly dressed prostitutes to the lobby, and sometimes they even check in as paying guests.
Employee entrances must e secured. Hardened criminals seek entrance through them. Employees must have written authority to remove any hotel property, and in-house inventory control must be stringent.
It has been proved time and again that employee theft looms largest in hotels that are poorly controlled. Recently two large screen TV sets were stolen from a downtown New Orleans hotel although the property claims to have a large and effective security department.
A full key control is most instrumental in preventing such problems.
Guests expect and must provided complete security. When security fails, the guest has ground to sue. In less well effectively governed countries lawsuits of foreign guests may fall short of success, as was the case in several instances in a tourist-attracting country south of the U S A.
During weekly management meetings security problems must be discussed thoroughly and solutions sought.
Although most hotels ask guests to deposit valuables in security boxes often this advice is not heeded. This is when thieves strike rich. Now several hotels install safety boxes in rooms, and still guests neglect to make use of them.
Crimes committed in any hotel create adverse publicity, and must be avoided at all cost.
Employee theft represents a more widespread problem. Though each theft may be small, cumulatively they cost more than any other theft. Surprisingly, most managers fail to take preventive measures. Experts claim that losses due to employee theft in North America amounts to more than $ 10 billion annually, although this figure must be regarded as guestimate at best.
White-collar employees can be as bad, if not worse, than those delivering services. Managers have discovered startling cases in which food and beverage managers stole hotel property to cater on their own account to outsiders.
Other cases determined purchasing agents on the take in from of kickbacks.
Employees are known to abuse their privileges by having a friend to punch in and out on their behalf. Time theft can be prevented by rigorous supervision at employee entrance.
Sign-in forms at departmental offices may help solve such problems.
Handling cash and cheques requires especially stringent controls. Cash should eb handled by bonded and authorized employees only. Today in the western world most payments are made by credit card, still there are many people who prefer cash for several reasons.
In one case an accounts receivable employee had stolen in excess of $ 100,000.00.
Purchasing agents are most difficult to control, but there are ways, for example suppliers can and should be called anonymously and asked for quotes for regularly purchased merchandise. If comparisons reveal that prices vary substantially the director of purchasing must be investigated.
Receiving employees require strict control.
Receivers must report to the comptroller and never to the purchasing agent. All receivers must weigh and check all vegetable and fruit boxes religiously under the prying eyes of knowledgeable food and beverage cost control clerks or the manager. A special stamp indicating that the merchandise has been accepted subject to later scrutiny should be attached to each case.
This will prevent truck drivers from defrauding. Surprise food and beverage inventories in storerooms and bars can unearth discrepancies. This practise will deter employees from attempting to steal.
Food and beverage inventories are taken monthly (sometimes every fourth week), engineering supplies or linen inventories annually and in some operations never.
Such policies cost thousands of dollars in shrinking inventories.
In some operations executives enjoy laundry or dry cleaning privileges, which may end up being abused. In many hotels and restaurants managers are granted 50 per cent discount for entertaining family and friends, but this must be carefully monitored to prevent abuse.
Long-distance callas and Internet connectivity are privileges some office employees enjoy, but also abuse. Specially designed software can prevent such abuse.
Banquet sales staff entertains potential clients and sign including tip. These expenses are considered promotion but must be strictly controlled every month end before booking them as such.
Raking garbage can reveal many interesting and valuable equipment, i.e silverware. In well-managed and large operations garbage raking is routine.
Even accounting offices should be strictly controlled. The revenue controller must never be the one to deposit cash.
Fraudulent receivable supervisors have been known to decline their holidays for years for fear of being discovered as thieves. In one instance the whole scheme was uncovered by a lucky coincidence when a guest called the general manager complaining that he was being pestered for a supposedly outstanding account although he had paid it long ago.
Computer crime precipitated an increase with the installation of advanced software. It is crucial to have controlling software to prevent sophisticated fraud.
Recently a software writer was caught directing a very small amount from each paid bill to his own.
Training all executives in software programming is now an important aspect of effective management.
Adequate cost control and security procedures and policies minimize losses, while increasing profits.
Anything and everything in a hotel or restaurant can be used at home and subject to abuse and fraud.
Reducing employee theft required a multi-pronged and sustained approach.