Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Shoplifters are usually characterized as impulsive teens who do it for a thrill.  But that really only accounts for a small percentage of "shrinkage" in retail.

Shoplifters come from all walks of life - from professional thieves, to impulsive teens, to even middle and upper-class people with a compulsion to steal.

I have run into a number of these folks over the years - from friends to family members.   In most cases, the stuff they steal is junk or incidental things.   They feel that life has given them a raw deal, and by stealing little things here and there, they are "getting ahead" somehow, or evening the score.

Let me repeat that again - they feel life has given them a raw deal.    They were born and raised in the wealthiest country in the world, are well-fed, educated, and have clothing on their back and a place to live.   They drive their car to the store where they will steal from.   And they got a raw deal.

These are hardly folks who are stealing a loaf of bread to feed their starving children.  These are people who want to subscribe to the "United States of Feeling Sorry for Ourselves" theory of living.

And they come in all ages, although teenagers are usually what you hear about the most, as they are most often caught.   Being a teenager, as I noted before, really sucks.   Everyone likes to think teens are having a great time, like on television, driving around in fancy cars, wearing designer clothes, chatting on their new iPhones, and of course, having wild teenager sex and getting shitfaced and stoned all the time.

The reality of being a teen is being broke most of the time, wanting all these consumer goods, but never actually having them (unlike the spoiled kids on the TeeVee shows) and Mom and Dad won't even pony up for a new iPhone 5!  (they have to still use that crummy iPhone 4, if you can believe that.  Mom and Dad are so lame).

And as for the sex and drugs part, well, teens again are always wanting, but rarely having.  And when they have, it ain't that great.  (Sex is one thing that gets better with age.)

So they engage in feeling sorry for themselves, aided and abetted by the television, which shows this distorted view of real life, where young secretaries, right out of college, can afford brand-new convertibles and fancy apartments.   Why aren't our lives like on television?

So it seems tempting to steal.   After all, the "big corporations" can afford it, right?   And they expect a certain amount of shoplifting, right?  It's factored into their prices!    And yes, I have heard people make such arguments.   It is idiotic.

The problem is, of course, that it is ridiculously easy to get caught shoplifting these days.    You may get away with it once, or twice, or maybe three times.   But eventually, the hidden cameras and store detectives catch up with you.  They know what to look for.

Fred was a typical impoverished teen.   While his parents had money and were well off, they did not just hand it over to Fred for no reason.   They provided him with food, shelter, clothing, and eventually, a college education, which was expensive enough.  They weren't about to buy him all the junk he wanted in life, although they did buy him a lot.

Fred was fixing up his old car, and he wanted some bitchin' accessories to put on it.  He went to the chain store and in the auto parts aisle, they had all sorts of stuff he wanted, like green windshield wipers and a chrome gas pedal.  Unable to afford this stuff (and also buy pot) he figured he was owed it, as after all, he had shopped in the store before and paid their "ripoff" prices.   So he stuffed a few things in his coat pocket and started to walk out.

Unfortunately for Fred, the scruffy-looking fellow down the aisle, who appeared to be looking for an oil filter for his Chevy, was actually a store detective.   The store security guard intercepted Fred as he left the store, and asked to see inside his coat.

As Fred was under-aged, and since this was years ago, they let Fred go after giving him a warning - and telling him never to come back to the store again.   Today, stores generally no longer do this.  Giving people warnings is pretty pointless.  And telling a potential customer to never come back to the store makes no sense either.  More and more stores prosecute - even juveniles.

Suzie liked to party.  Sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, when she could get it.   Unfortunately, since she was just a teen, she didn't have the money for drugs very often.  In fact, coming from a lower-middle-class (if not outright poor) family, she rarely had money for much.   And the idea of getting an after-school "job" was, of course, for idiots, she felt.  So early on in life, she started shoplifting.   The locally-owned stores in her small town were easy pickings, as they didn't have the money to pay security guards or store detectives, like the big chain stores did.  And they didn't have security cameras, of course.  So she took things - small things, at first, usually cosmetics or costume jewelry, which she could stuff in her pocket.

Her parents never asked where these things came from.  In fact, they showed a surprising lack of curiosity as to how things showed up in their daughter's possession, when she had no allowance to buy things with, and the items were not purchased for her by her parents.  "A friend of mine gave it to me," she would say, if her parents asked - if they bothered to ask.   They didn't bother often, and Suzie had a lot of generous friends.

Suzie didn't get caught - very often.   When she did, the stores often did the same thing they did to Fred - giving warnings and banning "for life".  On one occasion, they called Suzie's Mom, and there was hell to pay.  But eventually, this blew over, and Suzie found other places to shoplift.

For example, the new chain store that moved into the strip mall outside of town.  She and her girlfriend would drive there in her girlfriend's car.   There had to be easy pickings here, right?   And one one fateful day, they went from shoplifting to more serious crime.    While looking for things to steal, they saw a woman leave her purse unattended in her shopping cart.  Suzie reached in and grabbed the lady's wallet quickly and skulked away.

There wasn't much money in the wallet, but there were credit cards.  So she and her girlfriend went on a shopping spree - right there in the store - and tried to use the credit card to pay for it all.  They were caught, and since Suzie was now 18, she was charged as an adult with felony theft and credit card fraud.   She was sentenced to 30 days in jail, which she had to serve for the next 15 weekends.

And the felony conviction prevented her from getting even a part-time job after that.

Janet was 50 years old and unhappy with her life.   Her husband had left her for a younger woman, and she let that make her bitter and angry.   Her career had stalled and she had a little run-in with the IRS over some unreported income - a lot of unreported income.   It was easy for her to portray herself, in her own mind, as a "victim" of circumstance.

She liked to shop at the local gourmet store near her house, but the prices they charged were outrageous.  A small jar of mustard was $7!  But she wanted to keep up appearances of her former life, and serving more plebeian brands to her guests was out of the question.   Besides, she got a raw deal in life and she deserved better!

So, one day, while in the store, she found it all-too-easy to slip the jar of gourmet mustard into her fur coat (the latter being a leftover, like her aging Mercedes, of an earlier life).   She walked right out the door and no one said a thing.  It was kind of thrilling, actually.  Sort of like a game.  And when she got home, she felt like she was winning again, for a change.

But of course, she went back.  And pretty soon, her fur coat was bulging with foodstuffs.  But the managers of the store didn't figure that such a well-dressed lady would be stealing. (No, no, they kept their eyes on all the young black people in the store, who they felt were more likely to be thieves.)   And of course, she tried her hand at other stores as well.  Pretty soon, she had a pantry filled with gourmet treats.

But, like with all shoplifters, eventually she got caught.   The gourmet store did have a store detective and video cameras.  And while the store management initially let their own prejudices blind them to what was going on, they eventually saw her on camera, pocketing a jar of caviar.

It was pretty embarrassing for her, as in the small town she lived in, word got around fairly quickly, even if her name wasn't published in the newspaper.  Her effort to "keep up appearances" backfired in a big way.   Friends started to edge away from her.

* * * 

Now these folks are all amateur shoplifters.   Professional shoplifters are a whole different ballgame, although a lot of them have characteristics in common.   They often come from poor backgrounds, they often feel they got a raw deal in life, and they usually get caught, more than once.

But professionals steal for money, not for thrills or to satisfy emotional needs.   And they are often more brazen about it - grabbing valuable merchandise (not trinkets and junk, as most amateurs do) and then just running out of the store.   When the store security officer hollers "stop!" they just keep going.

And to the professional (which is not really a proper word, as it implies they are like cat burglars or jewel thieves, whereas most are just meth-heads) getting caught is just a part of doing business.  Most get caught more than once.

And of course, there are compulsive thieves - kleptomaniacs - who have a mental illness that compels them to steal.  These folks have a mental illness, at least some believe, which can be treated with drugs, in some instances.

The point of this post (and there was one) was not about professional shoplifters or compulsive thieves.  But rather to illustrate yet another trap that sometimes ensnares middle-class people.   And it is a trap, too.  And like so much else that brings down the average middle-class Americans, it is based on emotional thinking ("I'm getting a raw deal in life!") as well as weak thinking (not thinking about predictable outcomes, such as getting caught).

And yea, rational adults, even well-off rational adults, do this.

And the common denominator is to think of yourself as a passive victim and that stealing is somehow "getting ahead" or "evening the score" when in fact it is merely a dead-end.    The amount of crap you can shoplift will not significantly improve your standard of living, or improve your life.  Rather, it will likely make you feel worse about yourself.

For parents, the inability to spot teenage shoplifting is also an example of weak thinking or just engaging in denial.  I mentioned before about a local teen (aged 15) who was stealing car stereos in our neighborhood.   When caught, he had over 200 of them in his garage.   His Mother told Police that she thought her 15-year-old son was running a "car stereo business" and never bothered to think about where a 15-year-old would get the money to finance such a business.

If you kids start showing up with a lot of merchandise and with feeble excuses of where it came from ("I borrowed it from a friend") then start asking questions.

And if you feel put-upon in life and think taking shortcuts to "get ahead" is the answer, think again.   Jumping off a cliff is not a "shortcut to the bottom" but just suicide.   And thinking of yourself as put-upon or disadvantaged just because other people seem to have nice things is a dead-end game.   Comparing yourself to others never accomplishes anything, as there will always be someone who has more money or whatever, than yourself.  Worry more about what you think about yourself than what others think.

And stealing shit, well, that's just a dead-end.