Tag Pollution

by Karter Hall on June 12, 2018

I saw this message posted online the other day and it was one that has been asked of us here at Provent many, many times. The question was “I passed through a shop's Electronic Article Surveillance and it rang without me taking an item from the store. How was it possible?”

This is an often asked question for those in the Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) business or more commonly known as anti-shoplifting industry. You walk into a store (or walk out), you have no articles from the store in your possession and their anti-shoplifting alarms go off. You pause and look around and you are the only one in the entrance of the store. It makes you want to laugh or cringe depending on your emotional mettle of the day. What you have encountered is typically cause by what we call “tag pollution”. This is clothing with active security tags sewn into them and people are wearing and walking around with them on.

There could be a few other reasons which I will get into but the most probably cause is you are wearing clothing that was source tagged at a factory overseas (meaning a tag was sewn into the seam or pocket of the clothing you are wearing) and you bought this at a store that did not properly deactivate the tag. Big offenders of this are some of the fast fashion retailers with their untrained and transient staff.  They put security tags in all of the items they sell but then when they sell it to you they forget to deactivate the tag.

Why doesn’t it set off the alarms when you leave their store? Well commonly some of these stores have turned off their alarm systems or the system isn’t working properly and the tags will not get picked up upon exit. Maybe the store even knows this so they intentionally skip the extra step of deactivating the tag within the clothing. Regardless you leave their store, head home and never know the tag is active. A few days later you wear your new item but you walk into a retailer who keeps their anti-shoplifting equipment working properly and BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, you set off their alarm. Possibly you have even walked in without it picking you up but then it picks you up on the way out. Annoying to say the least.

(For clarity here and to make sure no one is concerned about any privacy issues, a clothing security tag does not broadcast a signal constantly. It requires the antenna of the store to send a signal to the tag to energize it and then it emits a radio frequency which travels back to the antenna and basically says “I’m a tag” with no other information transmitted.)

Another cause of these random alarms could be that you walked in or out when the store’s anti-theft system randomly false alarmed (your lucky day) which happens with some retailers a couple of times a day as the anti-theft systems are affected by ambient radio noise which could trigger them if the frequency is similar to the tag frequency. One less common cause of the alarm going off is the tag inside your clothing has come back to life. Yes, this can happen. The tag could have been properly deactivated at the store but then dry cleaning or a super hot dryer can reactivate some types of tags. Once again you start setting off alarms when you walk into certain retail stores which use that tag type.

Tag pollution everyone. More pollution to worry about- ugh! If it happens to you and you are nearby the store you purchased the item from go tell them to start deactivating their tags before you leave the store with your new purchase. Otherwise take pride in knowing you will have alarms ringing upon your entrance to respectable stores and you will be the center of attention. Smile and wave!

If you want to find out more on how anti-theft systems work, Chris Woodford has written a great article on the subject which you can find here: https://www.explainthatstuff.com/rfid.html

If you want to see the future of EAS systems take a look at our Vancouver, BC based start-up Flashgate Technology Inc. (www.flashgate.ca) We are using facial recognition and AI combined with digital display advertising to put a whole new twist on loss prevention technologies. Maybe we can solve tag pollution!