It's a Holiday for Shoplifters Too

It's a crime that occurs an estimated 550,000 times a day and costs the nation's retailers between $11 and $15 billion dollars a year. Shoplifting is one of the most common crimes and also one of the most expensive.

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There are an estimated 25 million shoplifters in the United States today, with no one common profile that best describes who they are. Statistics show that men and women shoplift equally as often and that most are not professional thieves. Unlike many other crimes, shoplifting often has very little to do with the criminal act itself and more to do with the emotions of the person stealing. Peter Berlin is the executive director of the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention and says shoplifting is an effort by individuals to relieve stress and discomfort. "They all know the difference between right and wrong, that's not the issue. It's not about values, it's not about greed, it's not about poverty. It's about relieving the feelings that are inside them and satisfying those feelings, which are very uncomfortable for them," he says.

Berlin says about a third of shoplifters are depressed and steal things as a distraction or to make themselves feel better. "They got something for nothing. They substituted something for the loss. They got what they were entitled to and the depression is somewhat lifted because they got a high or a rush from getting away with it, but of course it's only temporary. It comes right back and then they're back in the same situation again," he says.

Which is often in trouble with the law. The Harris County District Attorneys office deals with hundreds of shoplifting cases every month and sometimes thousands during the holiday season. Marc Brown is the chief of the DA's Misdemeanor Section and says punishment varies for shoplifting. "If it's over $50, then it's a Class B misdemeanor. It's punishable by up to 6 months in jail and up to a $4000 fine. If it's over $500 in the value of the item stolen, then they can get up to a year in jail, and that's for a first offender. If it's less than $50 then it's just a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to a fine of only $500," he says.

Although shoplifters say they're usually caught only once out of every 50 times they steal, retailers are using more advanced technology to make it harder to get away with the crime. Chris McGoey is a Los Angeles-based security expert and operates the Crimedoctor.com website. He ways high-tech security measures are making a difference. "Surveillance cameras are better than ever before. I mean, they can zoom in and read the time on your watch or the change that you have in your hand. They have electronic article surveillance devices, little tags that go on merchandise or concealed inside the pockets of clothing and they'll activate those sensors when you leave the store. So all those things are better and smaller and definitely help," he says.

Link to Shoplifters Anonymous

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