Electronic article surveillance

There are several major types of electronic article surveillance systems:

These new types of systems have caught on lately as there are no visible pedestals or hindrance in the store facade. These systems are installed below the floor and dropped from the ceiling and can then protect merchandise of retailers from being stolen. There are site conditions and other parameters which enable them to be successfully installed but often it has now been noted that malls insist on concealed system as a mandate to increase the shopping experience.

When the ferromagnetic material is magnetized, it biases the amorphous metal strip into saturation, where it no longer produces harmonics. Deactivation of these tags is therefore done with magnetization. Activation requires demagnetization.

The EM systems are suitable for libraries to protect books and media. In the retail segment, unlike AM and RF, EM can protect small or round items and products with foil packaging or metal objects, like cosmetics, baby milk cans, medicines, DIY tools, homeware etc. EM systems can also detect objects placed in foil bags or in metal briefcases.

A further application is the Intellectual property (IP) protection against theft: Security paper with embedded microwires, which is used to detect confidential documents if they are removed from a building.

Amorphous metals are used in such systems due to their good magnetoelastic coupling, which implies that they can efficiently convert magnetic energy into mechanical vibrations.

When the semi-hard magnet is magnetized, the tag is activated. The magnetized strip makes the amorphous strip respond much more strongly to the detectors, because the DC magnetic field given off by the strip offsets the magnetic anisotropy within the amorphous metal. The tag can also be deactivated by demagnetizing the strip, making the response small enough so that it will not be detected by the detectors.

AM tags are three dimensional plastic tags, much thicker than electro-magnetic strips and are thus seldom used for books.

In terms of deactivation, radio frequency is the most efficient of the three technologies (RF, EM, AM – there are no microwave labels) given that the reliable "remote" deactivation distance can be up to 30 cm (11.8 in). It also benefits the user in terms of running costs, since the RF de-activator only activates to send a pulse when a circuit is present. Both EM and AM deactivation units are on all the time and consume considerably more electricity. The reliability of "remote" deactivation (i.e. non-contact or non-proximity deactivation) capability makes for a fast and efficient throughput at the checkout.

Efficiency is an important factor when choosing an overall EAS solution given that time lost attempting to deactivate labels can be an important drag of cashier productivity as well as customer satisfaction if unwanted alarms are caused by tags that have not been effectively deactivated at the point of sale.

Deactivation of RF labels is also dependent on the size of the label and the power of the deactivation pad (the larger the label, the greater the field it generates for deactivation to take place. For this reason very small labels can cause issues for consistent deactivation). It is common to find RF deactivation built into barcode flat and vertical scanners at the POS in food retail especially in Europe and Asia where RF EAS technology has been the standard for nearly a decade. In apparel retail deactivation usually takes the form of flat pads of approx. 30x30 cm.

These permanent tags are made of a non-linear element (a diode) coupled to one microwave and one electrostatic antenna. At the exit, one antenna emits a low-frequency (about 100 kHz) field, and another one emits a microwave field. The tag acts as a mixer re-emitting a combination of signals from both fields. This modulated signal triggers the alarm. These tags are permanent and somewhat costly. They are mostly used in clothing stores and have practically been withdrawn from use.

The high-speed application of EAS labels, suited for commercial packaging processes, was perfected via modifications to standard pressure-sensitive label applicators. Today, consumer goods are source tagged at high speeds with the EAS labels incorporated into the packaging or the product itself.

The most common source tags are AM strips and 8.2 MHz radio frequency labels. Most manufacturers use both when source tagging in the USA. In Europe there is little demand for AM tagging given that the Food and Department Store environments are dominated by RF technology.

EAS systems can provide a solid deterrent against casual theft. The occasional shoplifter, not being familiar with these systems and their mode of operation, will either get caught by them, or preferably, will be dissuaded from attempting any theft in the first place.

However, they may miss some tags or be unable to remove or deactivate all of them, especially if concealed or integrated tags are used. As a service to retailers, many manufacturers integrate security tags in the packaging of their products, or even inside the product itself, though this is rare and not especially desirable either for the retailer or the manufacturer. The practical totality of EAS labels are discarded with the product packaging. This is of particular application in everyday items that consumers might carry on their person to avoid the inconvenience of potentially live reactivated EAS tags when walking in and out of retail stores.

Hard tags, typically used for clothing or ink tags, known as benefit denial tags, may reduce the rate of tag manipulation. Also, shoplifters deactivating or detaching tags may be spotted by the shop staff.

Shoplifting tools are illegal in many jurisdictions, and can, in any case, serve as evidence against the perpetrators. Hence, informed shoplifters, although they decrease their risk of being caught by the EAS, expose themselves to much greater judicial risks if they get caught with tools, booster bags, or while trying to remove tags, as this shows intent to steal.

In summary, while even the least expensive EAS systems will catch most occasional shoplifters, a broader range of measures are still required for an effective response that can protect profits without impeding sales.

A single EAS detector, suitable for a small shop, is accessible to all retail stores, and should form a part of any coherent loss or profit protection system.

Disposable tags cost a matter of cents and may have been embedded during manufacture. More sophisticated systems are available, which are more difficult to circumvent. These solutions tend to be product category specific as in the case of high value added electronics and consumables; consequently they are more expensive. Examples are "Safers", transparent secure boxes that completely enclose the article to be protected, Spiders that wrap around packaging and Electronic Merchandise Security Systems that allow phones and tablets to be used securely in the store before purchase. All of these require specific detachers or electronic keys at the point-of-sale desk. They have the advantages of being reusable, strong visual deterrents to potential theft.

A detacher is used to remove re-usable hard tags. The type of detacher used will depend on the type of tag. There are a variety of detachers available, with the majority using powerful magnets. Any store that uses an anti-shoplifting system and has a detacher should take care to keep it secured such that it cannot be removed. Some detachers actually have security tags inside them, to alert store personnel of them being removed from (or being brought into) the store. With increasing prevalence, stores have metal detectors at the entrance that can warn against the presence of booster bags or detachers.

Although the amount of shielding required depends on the system, its sensitivity, and the distance and orientation of the tags relative to its antennas, total enclosure of tags is not strictly necessary. Indeed, some shoplifters use clothes lined with aluminum foil. Low-frequency magnetic systems will require more shielding than radio-frequency systems due to their use of near-field magnetic coupling. Magnetic shielding, with steel or mu-metal, would be more effective, but also cumbersome and expensive.

To deter the use of booster bags, some stores have add-on metal detector systems which sense metallic surfaces.

Like most systems that rely on transmission of electromagnetic signals through a hostile medium, EAS sensors can be rendered inoperative by jamming. As the signals from tags are very low-power (their cross-section is small, and the exits are wide), jamming requires little power. Evidently, shoplifters will not feel the need to follow radio transmission regulations; hence crude, easy-to-build transmitters will be adequate for them. However, due to their high frequency of operation, building a jammer can be difficult for microwave circuits; these systems are therefore less likely to be jammed. Although jamming is easy to perform, it is also easy to detect. A simple firmware upgrade should be adequate for modern DSP-based EAS systems to detect jamming. Nevertheless, the vast majority of EAS systems do not currently detect it.

All electronic article surveillance systems emit electromagnetic energy and thus can interfere with electronics.

Magneto-harmonic systems need to bring the tags to magnetic saturation and thus create magnetic fields strong enough to be felt through a small magnet. They routinely interfere with CRT displays. Demagnetization-remagnetization units also create intense fields.

Acousto-magnetic systems use less power but their signals are pulsed in the 100 Hz range.

Radio-frequency systems tend to be the least interfering because of their lower power and operating frequency in the MHz range, making it easy to shield against them.