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Shoplifting (also known in slang as boosting and five-finger discount) is a popular term used for the unnoticed theft of goods from an open retail establishment. Shoplifting typically involves a person concealing a store item on their person, in pockets or under clothes (or in a bag, baby stroller, etc.) and leaving the store without paying for it. With clothing, shoplifters may put on items from the store and leave the store wearing the clothes. The terms "shoplifting" and "shoplifter" are not usually defined in law. The crime of shoplifting generally falls under the legal classification of larceny. Shoplifting is distinct from burglary (theft by breaking into a closed store), robbery (stealing by threatening or engaging in violent behavior) or armed robbery (stealing by using a weapon). The word shrinkage, a retail industry term, is not a synonym for shoplifting, as it includes merchandise loss by means other than shoplifting, such as theft by store employees.
Shoplifters range from amateurs acting on impulse to career criminals who habitually engage in shoplifting as a form of income. Career criminals may use several individuals to shoplift, with some participants distracting store employees while another participant steals items. Amateurs typically steal products for personal use, while career criminals generally steal items to resell them in the underground economy. Other forms of shoplifting include swapping price labels of different items, return fraud or eating a grocery store's food without paying for it. Commonly shoplifted items are those with a high price in proportion to their size, such as disposable razor blades, vitamins, alcoholic beverages and cigarettes. Retailers have reported that 0.6% of their inventory is lost to shoplifting.
Stores use a number of strategies to reduce shoplifting, including storing small, expensive items in locked glass cases; chaining or otherwise attaching items to shelves or clothes racks (particularly expensive items); attaching magnetic or radio sensors or dyepacks to items; installing curved mirrors mounted above shelves or video cameras and video monitors, hiring plainclothes "store detectives" and security guards, and banning the bringing in of backpacks or other bags. Some stores have security guards at the exit, who search backpacks and bags and check receipts. Stores also combat shoplifting by training employees how to detect potential shoplifters.
- 1 Overview
- 2 History
- 3 Motivations
- 4 Differences by geography
- 5 Economic impact and response from shops
- 6 Punishment
- 7 Anti-shoplifting options
- 8 Notable cases
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
Shoplifting is the act of knowingly taking goods from an establishment in which they are displayed for sale, without paying for them. Shoplifting usually involves concealing items on the person or an accomplice, and leaving the store without paying. However, shoplifting can also include price switching (swapping the price labels of different goods), refund fraud, "wardrobing" (returning clothes after they have been worn) and "grazing" (eating or sampling a store's goods while in the store). Price switching is now an almost extinct form of shoplifting for two reasons. The labels will split apart if you try to remove them, and virtually all retail cashiers now scan items at the register, rather than relying on price stickers. Retailers report that shoplifting has a significant effect on their bottom line, stating that about 0.6% of all inventory disappears to shoplifters.
Some shoplifters are amateurs. In several countries, criminal flash mobs primarily of teenagers and young adults enter stores with the intention of stealing merchandise by distracting staff. However, there are people and groups who make their living from shoplifting, who tend to be more skilled career criminals. Generally, criminal theft involves taking possession of property illegally. In self-service shops, customers are allowed by the property owner to take physical possession of the property by holding or moving it. This leaves areas of ambiguity that could criminalize some people for simple mistakes, such as accidental hiding of a small item or forgetting to pay. For this reason penalties for shoplifting are often lower than those for general theft. Few jurisdictions have specific shoplifting legislation with which to differentiate it from other forms of theft, so reduced penalties are usually at a judge's discretion. Most retailers are aware of the serious consequences of making a false arrest, and will only attempt to apprehend a person if their guilt is beyond a reasonable doubt. Depending on local laws, arrests made by anyone other than law enforcement officers may also be illegal.
The first documented shoplifting started to take place in 16th-century London. By the early 19th century, shoplifting was believed to be primarily a female activity. In the 1960s, shoplifting began to be redefined again, this time as a political act. Researchers divide shoplifters into two categories: "boosters," professionals who resell what they steal, and "snitches," amateurs who steal for their personal use.
Shoplifting is considered a form of theft and is subject to prosecution. In the United Kingdom, theft is defined as "dishonestly appropriate[ing] property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it; and “thief” and “steal” shall be construed accordingly." It is one of the most common crimes. Shoplifting peaks between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., and is lowest from 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. In the United States, shoplifting increases during the Christmas season, and arrest rates increase during spring break. Rutgers University criminologist Ronald V. Clarke says shoplifters steal "hot products" that are "CRAVED," an acronym he created that stands for "concealable, removable, available, valuable, enjoyable and disposable."
The most commonly shoplifted item used to be cigarettes, until stores started keeping them behind the cash register. Commonly shoplifted items are usually small and easy to hide, such as groceries, especially steak and instant coffee, razor blades and cartridges, small technology items such as MP3 players, smartphones, USB flash drives, earphones, CDs and DVDs, cosmetics, jewelry, multivitamins, pregnancy tests, electric toothbrushes and clothing. In the United States, frequently shoplifted books include ones by authors Charles Bukowski, Jim Thompson, Philip K. Dick, Martin Amis, Paul Auster, Georges Bataille, William S. Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, Italo Calvino, Don DeLillo, Raymond Chandler, Michel Foucault, Dashiell Hammett, Jack Kerouac and other Beat generation writers, Jeanette Winterson, Chuck Palahniuk, Haruki Murakami, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Mark Z. Danielewski. (See Book store shoplifting.)
Economists say shoplifting is common because it is a relatively unskilled crime with low entry barriers that can be fitted into a normal lifestyle. People of every nation, race, ethnicity, gender and social class shoplift. Originally, analysis of data about apprehended shoplifters and interviews with store detectives suggested that females were almost twice as likely as males to shoplift. However, since 1980 data suggest that males are equally or more likely to shoplift than females. The average shoplifter first did it at the age of ten: shoplifting tends to peak in adolescence then steadily declines thereafter. People of all races shoplift equally, and poor people shoplift only slightly more than rich people. Men tend to shoplift using knapsacks, and women using strollers. When caught, a shoplifter has on average $200 worth of unpaid-for merchandise.
Shoplifting may be prevented and detected. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) monitoring is an important anti-shoplifting technology. Electronic article surveillance (EAS) is another method of inventory protection. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is an anti-employee-theft and anti-shoplifting technology used in retailers such as Walmart, which already heavily use RFID technology for inventory purposes. Loss prevention personnel can consist of both uniformed officers and plain-clothed store detectives. Large department stores will use both and smaller stores will use one or the other dependant on their shrink strategy. Store detectives will patrol the store acting as if they are real shoppers. The presence of uniformed officers acts as a deterrent to shoplifting activity and they are mostly used by high-end retail establishments. Shoppers in some stores are asked when leaving the premises to have their purchases checked against the receipt. Some expensive merchandise will be in a locked case requiring an employee to get items at a customer's request. The customer is either required to purchase the merchandise immediately or it is left at the checkout area for the customer to purchase when finishing shopping. Many stores also lock CDs, DVDs, and video games in locking cases, which can only be opened by the checkout operator once the item has gone through the checkout. Some stores will use dummy cases, also known as "dead boxes", where the box or case on the shelf is entirely empty and the customer will not be given the item they have paid for until the transaction has been completed, usually by other store staff.
Security guards are generally given the following criteria that must be met before apprehending a shoplifting suspect:
- You must see the shoplifter approach the merchandise
- You must see the shoplifter select the merchandise
- You must see the shoplifter conceal, convert or carry away the merchandise
- You must maintain continuous observation of the shoplifter
- You must observe the shoplifter fail to pay for the merchandise
- You must apprehend the shoplifter outside the store
Shoplifting, originally called "lifting," is as old as shopping. The first documented shoplifting started to take place in 16th-century London, and was carried out by groups of men called lifters. In 1591, playwright Robert Greene published a pamphlet titled The Second Part of Cony Catching, in which he described how three men could conspire to shoplift clothes and fabric from London merchants. When it was first documented, shoplifting was characterized as an underworld practice: shoplifters were also con artists, pickpockets, pimps, or prostitutes.
In the late 17th century, London shopkeepers began to display goods in ways designed to attract shoppers, such as in window displays and glass cases. This made the goods more accessible for shoppers to handle and examine, which historians say led to an acceleration of shoplifting.
The word shoplift (then, shop-lift) first appeared at the end of the 17th century in books like The Ladies Dictionary, which, as well as describing shoplifting, provided tips on losing weight and styling hair. Female shoplifters of this period were also called "Amazons" or "roaring girls." Notorious female shoplifters in London included Mary Frith, the pickpocket and fence also known as Moll Cutpurse, prostitute and pickpocket Moll King, Sarah McCabe whose shoplifting career spanned twenty years, and Maria Carlston (also known as Mary Blacke), whose life was documented by diarist Samuel Pepys, who was eventually executed for theft, and who for years shoplifted clothing and household linens in London with one or more female accomplices.
In 1699, the English Parliament passed The Shoplifting Act, part of the Bloody Code that punished petty crimes with death. People convicted of shoplifting items worth more than five shillings would be hanged in London's Tyburn Tree (known as the "Tyburn jig") with crowds of thousands watching, or would be transported to the North American colonies or to Botany Bay in Australia. Some merchants found The Shoplifting Act overly severe, jurors often deliberately under-valued the cost of items stolen so convicted shoplifters would escape death, and reformist lawyers advocated for the Act's repeal, but The Shoplifting Act was supported by powerful people such as Lord Ellenborough, who characterized penal transportation as "a summer airing to a milder climate" and the archbishop of Canterbury, who believed that strong punishment was necessary to prevent a dramatic increase in crime. As England began to embrace Enlightenment ideas about crime and punishment in the 18th century, opposition to the Bloody Code began to grow. The last English execution for shoplifting was carried out in 1822, and in 1832 the House of Lords reclassified shoplifting as a non-capital crime.
By the early 19th century, shoplifting was believed to be primarily a female activity, and doctors began to redefine some shoplifting as what Swiss doctor André Matthey had then newly christened "klopemania" (kleptomania), from the Greek words "kleptein" (stealing) and "mania" (insanity). Kleptomania was primarily attributed to wealthy and middle-class women, and in 1896 was criticized by anarchist Emma Goldman as a way for the rich to excuse their own class from punishment, while continuing to punish the poor for the same acts.
In the 1960s, shoplifting began to be redefined again, this time as a political act. In his 1970 book Do It: Scenarios of the Revolution, American activist Jerry Rubin wrote "All money represents theft...shoplifting gets you high. Don't buy. Steal," and in The Anarchist Cookbook, published in 1971, American author William Powell offered tips for how to shoplift. In his 1971 book Steal This Book, American activist Abbie Hoffman offered tips on how to shoplift and argued that shoplifting is anti-corporate. In her book The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting, social historian Rachel Shteir described how shoplifting from companies you dislike is considered by some activist groups, such as some freegans, decentralized anarchist collective CrimethInc, the Spanish anarchist collective Yomango and the Canadian magazine Adbusters, to be a morally defensible act of corporate sabotage.
Researchers divide shoplifters into two categories: "boosters," professionals who resell what they steal, and "snitches," amateurs who steal for their personal use.
Motivations for shoplifting are controversial among researchers, although they generally agree that shoplifters are driven by either economic or psychosocial motives. Psychosocial motivations may include peer pressure, a desire for thrill or excitement, impulse, intoxication, or compulsion.
Depression is the psychiatric disorder most commonly associated with shoplifting. Shoplifting is also associated with family or marital stress, social isolation, having had a difficult childhood, alcoholism or drug use, low self-esteem, and eating disorders, with bulimic shoplifters frequently stealing food. Some researchers have theorized that shoplifting is an unconscious attempt to make up for a past loss.
Researchers have found that the decision to shoplift is associated with pro-shoplifting attitudes, social factors, opportunities for shoplifting and the perception that the shoplifter is unlikely to be caught. Researchers say that shoplifters justify their shoplifting through a variety of personal narratives, such as believing they are making up for having been victimized, that they are unfairly being denied things they deserve, or that the retailers they steal from are untrustworthy or immoral. Sociologists call these narratives neutralizations, meaning mechanisms people use to silence values within themselves that would otherwise prevent them from carrying out a particular act.
A 1984 program in West Texas designed to reduce recidivism among convicted adult shoplifters identified eight common beliefs of shoplifters:
- If I am careful and smart, I will not get caught.
- Even if I do get caught, I will not be turned in and prosecuted.
- Even if I am prosecuted, the punishment will not be severe.
- The merchants deserve what they get.
- Everybody, at some time or another, has shoplifted; therefore it’s OK for me to do.
- Shoplifting is not a major crime.
- I must have the item I want to shoplift or if I want it, I should have it.
- It is okay to shoplift because the merchants expect it.
Developmental psychologists believe that children under the age of nine shoplift to test boundaries, and that tweens and teenagers shoplift mainly for excitement, are acting out or depressed, or are being pressured by their peers.
Differences by geography
Researches say that around the world, in countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Japan and India, people tend to shoplift the same types of items, and frequently even the same brands.
But there are also differences in shoplifting among different countries that reflect those countries' general consumption habits and preferences. In Milan, saffron, an expensive component of risotto alla Milanese, is frequently shoplifted, and throughout Italy, parmigiano reggiano is often stolen from supermarkets. In Spain, jamón ibérico is a frequent target. In France the anise-flavoured liqueur ricard is frequently stolen, and in Japan, experts believe that manga comics, electronic games and whisky are most frequently stolen. Bookstores and magazine sellers in Japan have also complained about what they call "digital shoplifting," which refers to the photographing of material in-store for later reading. Packed cheese has been the most frequently shoplifted item in Norway, with thieves selling it afterwards to pizza parlours and fast food restaurants.
Economic impact and response from shops
Retailers report that shoplifting has a significant effect on their bottom line, stating that about 0.6% of all inventory disappears to shoplifters. According to the 2012 National Retail Security Survey, shoplifting costs American retailers approximately $14B annually. In 2001, it was claimed that shoplifting cost US retailers $25 million a day. Observers believe that industry shoplifting numbers are over half of by employee theft or fraud and the rest by patrons. Of course, if apprehended during the shoplifting the merchandise is generally recovered by the retailers and there is often no loss to the store owner when the merchandise is surrendered to the store by the suspects. In addition, in many states retailers have the right to recover civil damages to cover the cost of providing security.
According to a December 23, 2008 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dimperio's Market, the only full service grocery store in the Hazelwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is closing because of shoplifters.
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Shoplifting is considered a form of theft and is subject to prosecution.
In most cases in the United States, store employees and managers have certain powers of arrest. Store officials may detain for investigation (for a reasonable length of time), the person who they have probable cause to believe is attempting to take or has unlawfully taken merchandise (see shopkeeper's privilege). At the very least, staff usually have citizen's arrest powers. Title 13, Chapter 5, of the California Penal Code Section 490.5(f)(1) allows an employee to detain a suspected shoplifter for a reasonable amount of time.
Generally, in the United States, the store employees who detain suspects outside of and inside the store premises are allowed by state statute limited powers of arrest and have the power to initiate criminal arrests or civil sanctions, or both, depending upon the policy of the retailer and the state statutes governing civil demands and civil recovery for shoplifting as reconciled with the criminal laws of the jurisdiction.
In the Islamic legal system called Sharia, "hudud" (meaning limits or restrictions) calls for "Sariqa" (theft) to be punished by amputation of the thief's hand. This punishment is categorized as "hadd," meaning a punishment that restrains or prevents further crime. Sariqa is interpreted differently in different countries and by different scholars, and some say it does not include shoplifting. But, in Saudi Arabia shoplifters' hands may be amputated.
Shoplifting may be prevented and detected. Both options reduce losses due to shoplifting. Many stores will put up signs warning about the consequences of shoplifting or signs warning about the use of surveillance cameras in the store. This is intended to deter people from trying to shoplift.
Closed circuit television
Closed-circuit television (CCTV) monitoring is an important anti-shoplifting technology. Retailers focusing on loss prevention often devote most of their resources to this technology. Using CCTVs to apprehend shoplifters in the act requires full-time human monitoring of the cameras. Sophisticated CCTV systems discriminate the scenes to detect and segregate suspicious behaviour from numerous screens and to enable automatic alerting. However, the attentiveness of the surveillance personnel may be threatened by false reliance on automatics. CCTV is more effective if used in conjunction with electronic article surveillance (EAS) systems. The EAS system will warn of a potential shoplifter and the video may provide evidence for prosecution if the shoplifter is allowed to pass checkout points or leave store premises with unbought merchandise.
Many stores will use public-view monitors in the store to show people there that they are being recorded. This is intended as a detterent to shoplifting. Some stores use inexpensive dummy cameras. Even though these fake cameras cannot record images, their presence may deter shoplifting.
Electronic article surveillance
Electronic article surveillance (EAS) is second only to CCTV in popularity amongst retailers looking for inventory protection. EAS refers to the electronic security tags that are attached to merchandise and cause an alarm to sound on exiting the store. Some stores also have detection systems at the entrance to the bathrooms that sound an alarm if someone tries to take unpaid merchandise with them into the bathroom. Regularly, even when an alarm does sound, a shoplifter walks out casually and is not confronted if no guards are present because of the high number of false alarms, especially in malls, due to "tag pollution" whereby non-deactivated tags from other stores set off the alarm. This can be overcome with newer systems and a properly trained staff. Some new systems either do not alarm from "tag pollution" or they produce a specific alarm when a customer enters the store with a non-deactivated tag so that store personnel can remove or deactivate it so it does not produce a false alarm when exiting the store. However, with tags that are stuck onto merchandise with glue (rather than being superimposed on) the shoplifter can easily scrape off the tag in their pocket.
Pedestal EAS covers offer cost effective means of adding a marketing tool at every entrance to a store, which are made of durable vinyl; they are also custom manufactured to fit any pedestal and can be printed to highlight specific brands or seasonal promotions. They do not interfere with the performance of the EAS systems and are easily cleaned or changed. Some shoplifters may employ jammer devices to prevent EAS tags from triggering, or magnets to remove the tags. Stores may employ technology to detect jammers and magnets.
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is an anti-employee-theft and anti-shoplifting technology used in retailers such as Walmart, which already heavily use RFID technology for inventory purposes. If a product with an active RFID tag passes the exit-scanners at a Walmart outlet, not only does it set off an alarm, but it also tells security personnel exactly what product to look for in the shopper's cart.
Add-on metal detector systems will be used in some stores with electronic article surveillance which sense metallic surfaces. They are used to deter the use of booster bags which are used to shield EAS tags.
Store detectives patrol the store wearing plainclothes and acting as if they are real shoppers. They may browse, examine, carry or even try on merchandise, all the while looking for signs of shoplifting and looking for possible shoplifters. Many large retail companies use this technique. Store detectives will watch a shoplifting suspect conceal an item then stop them after they have exited the store. These types of personnel must follow a strict set of rules because of very high liability risks. Many big retail or grocery stores like Walmart, Rite Aid, Zellers, Loblaws, etc. have a store detective to watch for shoplifters. Most of these stores use secret codes over the PA system to alert management, other loss prevention personal and associates that there is a shoplifters. Store detectives must follow a suspect around the store by foot or by watching video monitors and observe every move the person makes so that they do not face a lawsuit for apprehending the wrong person.
The presence of uniformed security guards acts as a deterrent to shoplifting activity and they are mostly used by high-end retail establishments and electronics stores. They are also used in stores like Target and Walmart. Floor attendants greet customers, follow them as they walk about the store and offer help with shopping. Shoplifters are not comfortable with this attention and may go somewhere else where they can steal unnoticed. In a 2008 global study conducted by NRMA, it found shoplifters are 68 percent less likely to commit the offence if they are greeted immediately as they walk into the retail store.
Some stores, such as Target will have an employee working at the fitting rooms. The employee will count how many clothes a person brings into the fitting rooms and ensure that they come out with the same number of clothes. This is to prevent people from using the fitting rooms to shoplift. The strategies used by store and security personnel can strongly affect the ability of shoplifters to succeed. All personnel must be trained in the techniques shoplifters use to steal merchandise and the proper actions to take to detect these thefts.
Shoppers in some stores are asked when leaving the premises to have their purchases checked against the receipt. Costco and Best Buy are well known companies that employ this tactic. However, this is voluntary, as the store cannot legally detain the shopper unless they have probable cause to suspect the shopper of shoplifting.
In the United States, shoppers are under no actual obligation to accede to such a search unless the employee has reasonable grounds to suspect shoplifting, and arrests the customer or takes or looks at the receipt from the customer without violating any laws or if the customer has signed a membership agreement which stipulates that customers will subject themselves to inspections before taking the purchased merchandise from the store. In the cases of Sam's Club and Costco, the contracts merely say that it is their policy to check receipts at the exit or that they "reserve the right". That wording does not specify the results of non-compliance by the customer, and since they did not have a right to re-check receipts in the first place, it may not be legally binding at all. The purchaser who holds the receipt owns the merchandise. Employees who harass, assault, touch, or detain customers or take their purchased merchandise may be committing torts or crimes against the customers.
Bottom of basket mirrors are commonly used in grocery stores where the checkout lanes are close together and the cashier might be unable to see the entire basket to ensure payment of all items.
Some expensive merchandise will be in a locked case requiring an employee to get items at a customer's request. The customer is either required to purchase the merchandise immediately or it is left at the checkout area for the customer to purchase when finishing shopping. This prevents the customer from having a chance to conceal the item. Another way of locking merchandise, especially popular in liquor stores, is to place a secure, store-administered hard-plastic cap on a regular bottle top. Once purchased the clerk will remove the cap with a store key. It is not otherwise easily removable. Many stores also lock CDs, DVDs, and video games in locking cases, which can only be opened by the checkout operator once the item has gone through the checkout. Many stores have certain items on locking pegs which are secure hooks to where the item can't be removed from the hook.
Some stores will use dummy cases, also known as "dead boxes", where the box or case on the shelf is entirely empty and the customer will not be given the item they have paid for until the transaction has been completed, usually by other store staff. Some stores have been known to take this idea further by filling the dummy cases or boxes with a weight, similar to the weight of the actual item by using a weight specially made to fit inside the box. This causes the shoplifter to think that the box is full, trying to steal it and ending up with nothing. This was especially popular in movie rental stores such as Blockbuster.
In 1897, accused murderer Lizzie Borden again received media attention when she was accused of shoplifting.
In 1937, French writer and political activist Jean Genet was arrested in Paris for shoplifting a dozen handkerchiefs from the department store Samaritaine. Genet frequently stole from shops throughout his life, including alcohol, bolts of linen, books and suits.
In 1966, Hedy Lamarr was arrested for shoplifting in Los Angeles. The charges were eventually dropped. In 1991, she was arrested on the same charge in Florida, this time for $21.48 worth of laxatives and eye drops. She pleaded "no contest" to avoid a court appearance, and in return for a promise to refrain from breaking any laws for a year, the charges were once again dropped.
In 1980, Lady Isobel Barnett, British radio and television personality, was found guilty of shoplifting and committed suicide four days later.
In 2001, actress Winona Ryder was arrested for shoplifting at Saks Fifth Avenue department store in Beverly Hills, California. Ryder was eventually convicted of misdemeanor theft and vandalism and became eligible for expungement of the conviction after finishing probation in 2005. Ryder was originally convicted by a jury of felony larceny/vandalism and was sentenced in a nationally televised California Superior Court proceeding in December 2002.
In August 2010, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's daughter Caroline was arrested for stealing five beauty items worth about $100 from a Sephora store in Manhattan. She was later offered a dismissal in return for a day of community service and six months without a further offense.
- Book store shoplifting
- Civil recovery
- Dine and dash
- Evasion, an autobiography detailing one man's shoplifting and dumpster diving-supported travels
- Exit control lock
- Fence (criminal)
- Library theft
- Loss prevention
- Organized retail crime
- Package pilferage
- Receipt of stolen property
- Retail loss prevention
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