SEASIDE - Merchant Alert keeps business owners a step ahead.

"The program is designed to help get information to businesses about fraud and how to avoid it," said Seaside Chief of Police Bob Gross.

According to the first issue of the Merchant Alert newsletter, one in 11 people have or will shoplift. Those are the numbers Gross is trying to avoid, or at least shrink.

The other focus of Merchant Alert is to help businesses avoid the financial difficulty created by fraudulent checks, stolen credit and debit cards and identity theft.

"You and I, the initial victims, eventually get our money back but businesses don't," said Gross.

Gross is also hoping the program will become a preventative measure for businesses. Part of that prevention comes via the newsletter which is sent out quarterly. The periodical includes tips on how to better protect businesses from shoplifting, what happens to shoplifters after arrest and ways to safeguard businesses from crimes other than shoplifting.

Thus far the program has distributed one alert - a fraudulent check chase that began with the Astoria Police Department and the Clatsop County Sheriff's Office.

"Due to the volume of checks being passed, we put out an alert," said Gross. "Two victims contacted us and he was caught."

Gross says Merchant Alert is a program that need not stay in Seaside, citing a merchant in Cannon Beach who chose to receive the updates as well. According to Gross, the business owner felt if a criminal were passing bad checks or using a stolen card in Seaside, nothing would stop that same person from doing so elsewhere.

To further that thought process, Gross says any business in the area is welcome to join the Merchant Alert program.

"All they have to do is fill out a form that can be picked up here at the police station and identify whether they want to be notified by fax or e-mail," said Gross.

The program is not a new idea according to Gross, who says he borrowed it from the Kennewick (Wash.)Police Department where he served prior to coming to Oregon. However, there have been some modifications to how alerts are passed on. In Kennewick the alerts were sent out via a telephone call.

"We want businesses to be aware of the activity," said Gross. He also said that merchants receiving the alert were urged to contact the police department immediately if a suspect was trying to pass a bad check or stolen card.

To sign up for the Merchant Alert program, call the Seaside Police Department (503) 738-6311.

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