Retail stores are faced with overhead each month and one frustrating expense is caused by theft of inventory. The amount of theft loss includes the security measures that have to be put into place to discourage five-finger discounts. This article looks at the different types of shoplifters, their methods, and the role of closed-circuit television camera systems to counter both professional and amateur shoplifters.
Stores of all sizes are targeted by shoplifters or have inventory stolen by employees. Almost everybody knows somebody who knows somebody who can get you a DVD player or laptop “straight off the back of the truck”, meaning the employees are deleting inventory entries and taking the units to the trunks of their cars instead. Security cameras are now widespread and necessary so store owners can deal with retail shrinkage from both the public and their employees. Security systems and surveillance cost money as well but even marginally profitable stores find them a vital part of staying in business. As a side note, the CCTV cameras are a good protection against lawsuits regarding injuries from falls on the property.
Theft of merchandise is not an occasional problem; the rate of loss is measured monthly as a fairly steady statistics. When discussing numbers that have been compiled through surveys it’s shocking to realize that Canada has similar stats to those surveyed in the U.S. even though Americans have double the unemployment rate, more crime, and far more poor neighborhoods than Canada. This indicates that not all shoplifters are motivated by desperate poverty; there are other issues related to factors such as adolescent rebellion, thrill-seeking, social pressure to provide Christmas gifts (December is the heaviest shoplifting month), drug addiction, homelessness, and psychological problems related to gaining attention, self-hatred, and anger over perceived persecution by the powers that be.
It’s estimated that 1% to 2% of all shoppers enter a store with the intention of stealing something. Shoplifting is Canada’s number one property crime and 1 in 10 people are shoplifters – most are opportunists rather than professionals, known as “boosters”. There are several different categories of shoplifters and they can be broken down into five types: professionals, amateurs, addicts, kleptomaniacs, and vagrants. Although people of all ages have been caught in the act, nine out of ten shoplifters are under the age of thirty.
Vagrants and addicts steal to support liquor and drug habits and of course kleptomaniacs are compelled to steal psychologically even if they are wealthy – even people with celebrity status such Winona Ryder, Caroline Giuliani, Shannon Marketic (Miss USA 1992), Britney Spears, tennis star Jennifer Capriati, and Farrah Fawcett have all made news with their inexplicable behavior. The items are often cosmetics and designer clothes that these ladies could easily afford. Research doesn’t turn up any male celebrity shoplifters, likely due to the relative value placed on money that someone has worked for.
Amateurs are classified as opportunistic in nature; they might be shoppers who have gotten away with leaving a changing room with extra clothes underneath or slipping something in their pockets a few times and found that it cuts costs to lift a few items. They are often employees who have figured out a scam that can give them an extra income by way of their access to the store’s goods. Amateur shoplifters going through the store are usually nervous and visibly self-conscious, especially now that virtually all stores have video surveillance.
Professionals on the other hand know exactly what they’re doing and remain smooth and cool as they take items that can be sold to a fence or returned to the store for cash. They gravitate towards target items that are small and easy to sell. Booster rings have crews that carry “booster bags” lined with aluminum foil to block the scanners and then head for racks of items like razor blades, scooping them into the bag and leaving the store to a waiting car before security measures can catch them. Even a live security guard wouldn’t be fast enough to catch them. More enterprising souls, sometimes a couple, will visit stores that sell expensive jewelry and ask to see some items below the glass, then create a small distraction as one of them blocks the salesperson’s view as the partner palms an item into a coat sleeve or pocket.
Professional boosters generally have long arrest records; it’s the type of crime that will be caught every so often. The shoplifters know they can expect to get arrested regularly, but the penalties are light since it’s a non-violent crime. The damage to the store owner is no laughing matter though. They lose customers by having floor staff shadowing you as you shop, asking “May I help you?” and following you around. Many shoppers get uncomfortable and leave the store without buying anything. The store owner usually has to sell 20 or 30 of the item stolen in order to make back his investment so some stores have undoubtedly been put out of business by experiencing heavy losses at the critically busy shopping period of Christmas when everything is riding on a successful 60 days of shopping.