How Do Security Ink Tags Work?

If you’ve ever purchased an item of clothing that has a large piece of plastic attached somewhere on the garment, you may wonder what it is and how to remove it. The piece of plastic is an ink security tag, typically found on more expensive garments. It is used as a deterrent to shoplifting, and you should never attempt to remove it on your own. Doing so may prove disastrous for your newly purchased item.

What Is an Ink Security Tag?

Ink security tags are most often affixed to clothing like leather jackets or formal dresses to deter shoplifters from stealing those items. They can also be found on other, less expensive pieces of clothing, like lingerie. Ink security tags come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but are commonly round and smaller than a hockey puck. Ink security tags must be removed from your item by the retailer using a special machine before you leave a store.

How Do Security Tags Work?

Ink security tags consist of two pieces held together by a narrow pin. The pin goes through the item of clothing and secures the two pieces together. The only way to get a tag off once the two pieces are secure is with a special removal device, which detaches the two pieces. Inside the ink security tag is a sealed vial of dye. If the tag is forcibly removed instead of properly removed by the retailer, the security tag ink vial breaks, and permanent ink bleeds all over the garment, rendering it unusable and worthless; the shoplifter cannot wear, sell or attempt to return the garment.

Why Use an Ink Security Tag?

Ink security tags provide a cost-effective way for retailers to have some type of security at their store. They are especially beneficial to retailers who cannot afford an electronic security system. However, an ink tag does not connect to an alarm; they are stand-alone security mechanisms. The purpose of the device is to deter shoplifting rather than catch a shoplifter after the fact. A person looking to steal a sweater is less likely to bother with one secured by an ink tag, because he won't be able to remove it without damaging the sweater.

Penalties for Shoplifting

Shoplifters still nab protected garments, despite the risk of alarming ink. When they do, they can face criminal charges. Someone who purposefully takes a garment with an ink tag out of a store without paying for it can be charged with shoplifting or retail theft. The penalty for shoplifting varies by state, but typically it includes jail time, probation and/or a fine. The penalty also varies based on the value of the stolen item.

For example, in Louisiana, shoplifting an item valued at less than $300 can result in a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in prison; stolen property of $500 or more can mean a fine of up to $3,000 and up to 10 years in prison.

Those who shoplift more than $300 worth of goods in Hawaii are charged with a Class C felony that comes with a minimum fine of four times the aggregate value of the stolen goods. If the goods are valued at less than $100, the theft is a petty misdemeanor with a minimum fine of twice the value of the stolen goods.


  • Ink security tags are used as a deterrent to shoplifting. The tags consist of two pieces held together by a pin and contain a sealed vial of dye. If the tag is forcibly removed by someone other than the retailer, the ink vial breaks and bleeds onto the garment, damaging it permanently.

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