Organised crime is costing the industry billions, but a few simple steps could keep your assets safe, says Ashley Bailey

It's a sad fact that in the current economic climate the retail industry is vulnerable to theft - but it can and should be doing more to tackle the problem.

Of the whopping £3.9bn cost of crime to the retail industry, £785m is being lost through lack of security and loss prevention methods.

Thieves will always look for a soft target - and retail has unfortunately made itself one. Very little serious theft is opportunistic. In most cases, the perpetrators are highly organised and will have spent time planning and watching businesses in order to identify weak points in premises, till points or employee behavioural patterns. These people are prepared and in many cases more so than the businesses they target.

It is a sad reflection of our times that in many cases such criminal activity has been organised, or supported, by employees of the targeted business. But the retail industry is not helping itself. With the advent of electronic payments, it has become lax in protecting its most basic asset. Simple steps, achievable by even the smallest independent, such as alternating the timing of the bank run, installing a secure till or technologies to spot fake bank notes, will all make a difference.

Cash is once again becoming king, enabling shoppers to track exactly what they are spending. Cashpoint transactions increased by more than 9% during 2008. With more cash in circulation, and more going through the retail tills, there is more opportunity for it to be stolen if it is not protected.

But it's not just the theft of cash that is leaving a hole in the retailers' profits. Forgeries are also on the increase and the ability to spot these is crucial. Forged £1 coins and £20 notes are particularly prevalent. Some are extremely well produced and difficult to spot and retailers need to be vigilant. Banks will not accept these counterfeits or swap them for the real thing, so the loss is entirely down to the retailer.

With so many challenges facing retailers, making money is only the first step. Keeping hold of it is now a challenge in its own right. It doesn't matter how much you put through your till. If you can't keep hold of it, you've made nothing.

Ashley Bailey is the MD of Loomis, End to End Cash Management.