Stores, authorities brace for potential shoplifting increase

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 22, 2007

DEMOPOLIS &8212; Although shoplifting is a year-round concern, local authorities say the increase in holiday shoppers may also increase the temptation for shoplifting.

Shoplifting, most commonly classified as theft in the third degree, is considered a Class A misdemeanor in Alabama, which holds a possible imprisonment sentence of up to one year, and a fine not to exceed $6,000.

According to Director of Public Safety Jeff Manuel, shoplifting is very common in the area. He said a common place for shoplifting is in a large store such as Wal-Mart, which can draw people from all over the county and even from out of the county.

Email newsletter signup

Manuel explained there are those who shoplift occasionally &8212; children who target small, low-cost items such as candy &8212;and those who he considers to be &8220;professionals&8221; &8212; those who target bigger ticket items like electronics.

A common shoplifting scam, Manuel said, is for one person to come into a store and purchase a big ticket item like a television, which must be carried out of the store. At the exit, the customer will be asked to show a receipt for the item. After they show a receipt to a store employee and leave, they give this same receipt to an accomplice, who then comes in to shoplift the same item, and presents the receipt again.

Since Thanksgiving the police department has tried to increase their presence in stores by doing more frequent walk-ins, Manuel said. With an increased presence, Manuel believes many shoplifters will be deterred from committing the crime.

Peebles store manager Rita Adams agrees.

Their associates are trained to look for shoppers who may exhibit suspicious behaviors, such as looking around them frequently instead of looking at the merchandise. Also, the store puts sensor tags that dispel ink when they are tampered with on any big ticket items shoplifters may be after.

When asked how often they have a shoplifter get away, Adams said, &8220;Most of the time we catch them in the store.&8221;

But for those times they do not see the crime as it happens, the store relies on its surveillance system to catch the perpetrators. Surveillance tapes are often turned over to local authorities for review even after the shoplifter has gotten away, Manuel said.

With the prominence of the Internet, video files can now be sent in a short period of time to different agencies, making case turnaround much quicker.

Shoplifting Facts:

More than $13 billion worth of goods are stolen from retailers each year. That&8217;s more than $35 million per day.

There are approximately 27 million shoplifters (or 1 in 11 people) in our nation today. More than 10 million people have been caught shoplifting in the last five years.

Shoplifters steal from all types of stores including department stores, specialty shops, supermarkets, drug stores, discounters, music stores, convenience stores and thrift shops. There is no profile of a typical shoplifter. Men and women shoplift about equally as often.

Approximately 25 percent of shoplifters are kids, 75 percent are adults. 55 percent of adult shoplifters say they started shoplifting in their teens.

Many shoplifters buy and steal merchandise in the same visit. Shoplifters commonly steal from $2 to $200 per incident depending upon the type of store and item(s) chosen.

Shoplifting is often not a premeditated crime. 73 percent of adult and 72 percent of juvenile shoplifters don&8217;t plan to steal in advance.

89 percent of kids say they know other kids who shoplift. 66 percent say they hang out with those kids.

Shoplifters say they are caught an average of only once in every 48 times they steal. They are turned over to the police 50 percent of the time.

Approximately 3 percent of shoplifters are &8220;professionals&8221; who steal solely for resale or profit as a business. These include drug addicts who steal to feed their habit, hardened professionals who steal as a life-style and international shoplifting gangs who steal for profit as a business. &8220;Professional&8221; shoplifters are responsible for 10 percent of the total dollar losses.

The vast majority of shoplifters are &8220;non-professionals&8221; who steal, not out of criminal intent, financial need or greed but as a response to social and personal pressures in their life.

The excitement generated from &8220;getting away with it&8221; produces a chemical reaction resulting in what shoplifters describe as an incredible &8220;rush&8221; or &8220;high&8221; feeling. Many shoplifters will tell you that this high is their &8220;true reward,&8221; rather than the merchandise itself.

Drug addicts, who have become addicted to shoplifting, describe shoplifting as equally addicting as drugs.

57 percent of adults and 33 percent of juveniles say it is hard for them to stop shoplifting even after getting caught.

Most non-professional shoplifters don&8217;t commit other types of crimes. They&8217;ll never steal an ashtray from your house and will return to you a $20 bill you may have dropped. Their criminal activity is restricted to shoplifting and therefore, any rehabilitation program should be &8220;offense-specific&8221; for this crime.

Habitual shoplifters steal an average of 1.6 times per week.

Source: National Center for Shoplifting Prevention.