A Cambridge, Mass., startup has a high-tech tool to help retailers keep an eye on

potential shoplifters.

Deterring shoplifting is a $13.3 billion-a-year headache for retailers, but a Cambridge startup says it has a high-tech new tool for nabbing sticky-fingered thieves.

IntelliVid licenses a video intelligence software program that monitors dozens of store security cameras at once and alerts company employees about suspicious activity.
  
Retail chains including CVS, Macy's and Babies 'R' Us are among those that have adopted IntilliVid's Video Investigator software on a trial basis, and others are evaluating its potential.
  
“Rather than having a human being stare at 90 cameras, our software is watching every camera and analyzing it for suspicious activity,” said Warren Brown, director of product marketing for IntelliVid. “We try and help (loss-prevention) at every step of the process.”
  
The company has raised more than $18 million in venture capital funding in recent years to pay for the development of Video Investigator and a second software program that's designed to detect employee theft.
  
Video Investigator works with a retailer's existing surveillance cameras.

Store employees or loss-prevention specialists program it to pay particular attention to certain shelves where high-theft items are stored, and to send an alert to store employees if unusual activity occurs there.
   
“From a prevention standpoint, the big challenge is you want to catch these guys before the merchandise gets out the door,” Brown said.
   
The program also enables employees to isolate cameras on suspicious customers and follow their movements through the store as they pass from one camera zone to the next, rather than following them on foot.
  
Video Investigator also helps stores identify shoplifters more quickly after the fact. In a conventional security system, employees would have to watch hours of archived video to find the footage of a suspect removing the merchandise. The IntelliVid program lets retailers highlight the shelf location where items were stolen, and searches through hours of footage to pinpoint when they were taken.
  
Although confidentiality agreements prohibit IntelliVid from naming clients, its software is used by four national retail chains, Brown said. Four others are using it on a pilot basis.
  
The Patriot Ledger writer Steve Adams may be reached at sadams@ledger.com.