How You Can Protect Your Laundromat from Criminals

The best place to start theft prevention among your employees is with good hiring, author Paul Russo writes. (Photo: © belchonock/Depositphotos)

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How You Can Protect Your Laundromat from Criminals (Conclusion)

Pointers from Paulie B: Screen job applicants carefully to avoid hiring those with ‘sticky fingers’

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Growing up in New York City, and operating multiple mats there for 41 years before retiring, I experienced a lot of crime! Over time, my stores were victimized by burglaries, larcenies, violent customer altercations, armed robberies, employee theft, quick-change artists, con jobs, loitering, and “grab & run” crimes.

I learned how to better protect my stores from these experiences. Some of these protections are creative foils for perps, and some are well-established, common-sense rules. Over this three-part article, I have listed some well-known protections and pointed out the benefits from my experiences. Here are the rest:

Preventing Employee Theft — To deter “sticky fingers,” always keep at least two cameras looking at your register, or install a POS system that uses cameras.

The best place to start theft prevention among your employees is with good hiring. Honest employees are out there but they’re rare. The trick is to identify them within your applicant pool.

I read somewhere that 25% of the pool will actively look to steal from you, 50% can be swayed to be honest with great money controls, and 25% will not steal, period. Obviously, you want to hire the top 25%, and it’s not easy. 

Interview candidates at least twice. In the first interview, I’d ask open-ended questions to gather more info than just yes or no.

Look to hire long-term employees. If they value the job, they are slightly less likely to succumb to temptation, but be wary that long-term employees can steal over time if you have slighted them over something. They know your operation inside and out, so there’s both motive and opportunity.

Since many applicants look at a laundromat job as being temporary, I’d ask a two-part question: “So how long would you like to work for me? A month or two?” If they said yes, I’d scratch them off. If they answered something like, “Well, I’m hoping to work here as long as possible,” or “Can I work for you longer than that?” they moved on to a second interview. 

In the second, I would screen them with a written “Integrity Test.” These helpful tools are not perfect, but much better than just using your gut for hiring. 

These tools won’t screen out every dishonest person but they did screen out the real bad ones for me. In fact, I was amazed at how badly some people answered the questions. Some people are real good at interviews, so whenever I hired against the advice of the score, that person usually turned out to give us problems. 

Make a Sandwich Plate for Your Drop Safe — If you use a drop safe to store your cash and important documents, I hope it’s rated at least a B, if not a C. The C-rated safe, with its 1-inch solid-steel door, stands up to sledgehammers and crowbars much better.

At one of my stores, I had a steel plate installed in the basement that matched the mounting holes of the safe. The floor was sandwiched in between the safe upstairs and the plate downstairs. One night, someone tried to break into it. They smashed our alarm system, expecting to make a quick attack, but left empty-handed when the police showed up. There were two cast-iron log-splitting wedges jammed under my safe but they weren’t able to pry it up. What’s more, I ended up with their tools and a nice leather jacket.

Watch Out for Utility Scams — One thing that will cause most mat owners to panic is losing any of the utilities. After all, without your utilities, your mat comes to a screeching halt. Some bad guys know this and will play on your fears. It goes something like this:

Your mat receives a phone call from someone claiming he’s from the billing department of your utility provider. Because they didn’t get your last two payments, your mat is in default and he’s sending two workers to shut off your electrical service within the hour. If your crew gets this call, they will call you in a panic. You pick up on their fear, and while scratching your head, you also panic: “This can’t be. I know I paid my bill.” You call the number back of what has to be the burner phone used to contact you.

He answers by saying the only way to keep your utilities on is you must pay your bill immediately in cash.

Believe it or not, this scam has worked successfully in NYC. Many mats there are owned by immigrants who have trouble understanding English, let alone local laws. So beware of anyone who tries to frighten you into paying cash.

Good crime prevention benefits any laundromat in a variety of ways. I wish you success in your efforts to protect your mat from crime.

Miss earlier parts of this article? You can read them here: Part 1 - Part 2

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].