Suspicious Sales: Retail Security Awareness

This video offers a realistic scenario that emphasizes the importance of maintaining awareness in retail stores and reporting suspicious activity to the appropriate authorities. It is designed to be viewed by salespersons, cashiers, customer service representatives, and any employee who interacts with customers. Store managers, security personnel, and loss prevention officers will also benefit from viewing the video.

Video Transcript


(New Hanover, Indiana, 8:38 p.m.)

Young man: For tomorrow night, I really think we should get there for five o’clock at the latest.

Young woman: But the fireworks don’t start until 9:30!

Young man: I know, but I want to get there as soon as possible so we...

(Belvedere Apartments, 11: 45 p.m.)

Special Agent Barber: Oh, here. I’ll take that. Thanks.

Special Agent Williams: The apartment was rented to one man, Alan Brown. The local police are canvassing, but looks pretty classic, kept to himself, neighbors don’t know much about him.

Special Agent Barber: He was killed in the blast?

Special Agent Williams: Yeah, four other people were taken to the hospital with cuts and bruises, one person has a concussion. It could have been a lot worse, I guess, although we don’t really know what he was doing.

Special Agent Barber: First thing we need to figure out is was this a meth lab accident or bomb making?

Special Agent Williams: Well, he wasn’t careful, whatever it was, whatcha got?

Special Agent Barber: Hydrogen peroxide.

Special Agent Williams: I don’t see any Pseudoephedrine. I say it looks more like explosives than meth.

Special Agent Barber: This is from a beauty supply store. Let’s get a picture of Brown and canvas the local beauty supply businesses…

Special Agent Williams: Receipts... Looks like we’ll be making a few stops with this shopping list.

(New Hanover Beauty Supply, 9:17 a.m.)

Special Agent Williams: I’m Special Agent Williams, and this is Special Agent Barber with the FBI. We’re investigating the explosion that happened at the Belvedere Apartments last night. We’d like to ask you a few questions. Do you recognize the man in this photo?

Alice: Wait a minute; was he a terrorist or something? You know, I knew something wasn’t right about this guy.

Special Agent Barber: We’re not sure what he was just yet.

Special Agent Williams: What wasn’t right?

Alice: Well, for one, I’d never seen him before, and I know most people in this business from this area, you know?

Special Agent Barber: And what was he looking to buy?

Alice: Oh, he wanted hair developer, and he asked for the highest volume.

Special Agent Williams: Hair developer, that’s a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide?

Alice: Yep, volume is beauty salon talk, the higher the volume in hair developer, the more the peroxide.

Special Agent Williams: Did he want anything else?

Alice: Oh yeah, he also wanted a lot of acetone, you know, nail polish remover? And that’s when I started thinking “something must be up with this guy.” So I started asking him simple questions, like, what shop did he work at, where did he get his training. I thought this guy must do a whole lot of dye jobs to need that much peroxide.

Special Agent Williams: You didn’t like his answers?

Alice: Honey, he didn’t give answers. He just said never mind about the acetone and then when I said I’d need to see some ID if he wanted to pay by credit card, he pulled his credit card away and pulls out a whole wad of cash. Did he, I mean, no one got hurt, right?

(Hanover Hill Pool and Spa, 11:25 a.m.)

Shelley: Yeah, I recognize him. Is this about that explosion? How did you know he was here?

Special Agent Williams: We found a receipt in a lot of shopping bags.

Shelley: Makes sense, he bought a lot.

Special Agent Barber: Yes ma’am. Do you remember what he wanted?

Shelley: I do.
He was over by the pool sanitizers and he just stood there for a really long time, looking at the backs of bottles. He’d pick one up and put it back, then the next one, same thing. I could tell he was looking for something and not finding it, so I asked him if he needed help. He said he needed a pool cleaner with hydrogen peroxide. I told him you mean the chlorine free shock over there. He said, no, I want the one with hydrogen peroxide. I said that is the one with hydrogen peroxide, the chlorine based chemicals don’t have peroxide, but they can clean just as well. But, he didn’t even look at the chlorine based shock after I said that. He said thanks and started looking at the back of the chlorine free bottles, the ones with hydrogen peroxide. I asked if he needed anymore help, he said, no he just needed the strongest stuff…his pool was really bad.

Special Agent Williams: Was there anything else?

Shelley: Most of the time people have their pools open way before the 4th of July. I thought that was kinda strange, but I figured he’d have a week to get it all set. But what made me remember him was that I asked him about the size of the pool and he was vague. He just said it was big and that he needed a lot of stuff. I don’t know any pools in this area that need that many bottles, he took nearly everything off the shelf.

Special Agent Barber: I see.

Shelley: I mean, I knew it was strange at the time but I didn’t know what to do about it.

(Max’s Farm & Garden Center, 1:38 p.m.)

Max: It was maybe…. four days ago? It was the day my normal floor man was out; I don’t always spend as much time with customers.

Special Agent Williams: But you spent time with him?

Max: Yeah. I remember his hands especially.

Special Agent Barber: His hands?

Max: Yeah, he had these… blotchy areas on the backs of his hands. Like he had been working with some serious bleach.

Special Agent Williams: Or peroxide?

Max: Yeah maybe. Anyway he was looking to buy a pretty large amount of fertilizer, in particular ammonium nitrate. I asked him if he had a dry place to store it. And he said he did. I asked him how many acres he was looking to take care of, he said he wasn’t sure, he was working for somebody else. Who is it, I asked, maybe I know him, and again he gives me this ‘mind your own business’ look.

Special Agent Barber: Really friendly guy, huh?

Max: Yeah, so I try a little small talk with him and ask him how he’d deal with all of the clay that’s in the area’s dirt. He kind of ignored the question, says he’s not worried about it, that it’s not his problem. He didn’t seem to know too much about farming or agriculture. Or at least he didn’t want to talk about it. If I didn’t ask a question I don’t think he would have said a word except to make the purchase.

Special Agent Barber: Well asking questions definitely helps identify suspicious behavior. We actually have this poster that gives your employees helpful hints on how to identify and handle any strange situations.

Max: Oh that’s helpful. Yeah, I’ll put it up in the break room and talk to my employees about it. You know what’s really strange? I asked him where he wanted the ammonium nitrate fertilizer delivered and he said he’d send a rental truck for it—the truck still hasn’t come.

Special Agent Williams: I wouldn’t hold your breath.

(Outside the Store)

Special Agent Williams: The initial search of his computer is done. He had a home improvement store and pharmacy on the west side of town.

Special Agent Barber: Well that’s not surprising; those places have lots of chemicals and equipment that could make improvised explosives. Actually, there are several different types of stores where a terrorist could buy that kind of stuff. Brown could have been even more discreet about the ones he did buy.

Special Agent Williams: Agreed. Still, it’s weird, that guy stuck out in one way or another to everyone we spoke to, but not enough to call the authorities.

Special Agent Barber: Well, it’s tricky. Nothing illegal was happening, and we always want to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Special Agent Williams: The trick is after the suspicious encounter you should write down details about the transaction like what time it was, what he bought, any information that might help identify the customer like their name, physical description, license plate, phone number—anything.

Special Agent Barber: Right. Then they can share that information with law enforcement, they can call their security manager if they have one, or they can call direct.

Special Agent Williams: Reporting suspicious activity can be confidential; it doesn’t mean that you’re accusing anyone. It just means something doesn’t feel right.

Special Agent Barber: That’s it, trust your gut and let investigators figure out if there’s anything to worry about. Even if it was nothing, at least you were being careful.

Special Agent Williams: It’s a lot safer for everyone else in the community.

Assistant Director John Perren: I’m John Perren, Assistant Director of the FBI’S Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate. The video you just saw highlights the vital role the private sector serves in the FBI’s efforts to counter terrorist attacks. Your expertise and experience is essential to increasing our understanding of potential WMD threats in the United States. Everything you do to control your oversight of chemical dangers makes everyone safer and your willingness to report suspicious activities at your facilities to law enforcement is critical to securing the country against these threats.

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