In our culture, shoplifting tends to be looked at is something shameful. Embarrassing. It’s something done by teenagers, professional thieves, or social outcasts.
The reality, however, is that one out of every 11 Americans has shoplifted before, according to a report by Shoplifters Alternative. Moreover, about 85 percent of shoplifters steal not out of necessity but out of compulsive urges, and many are middle-aged women who have been stealing since their teen years.
In other words, shoplifting is a common problem, and there are many reasons that people might end up engaging in retail theft. That’s the unusual nature of shoplifting. Its edges are somewhat harder to define than with other crimes.
If you are accused or charged with this crime, understanding these reasons can actually help in planning your defense and fighting back.
Understanding What Motivates People to Steal from Minnesota Stores
There are six common reasons that people tend to shoplift in our state and across the country.
Some people lift items from stores to resell them for personal profit. Stores with low security are high-target areas for people who steal to resell. Some of these people resell to make a living, others do it to supplement their income, and still others do it simply for thrills.
Technically this falls under “reselling,” but it is common enough that it warrants a separate spot on this list. People who are addicted to drugs are notorious for stealing items to resell them so they can use the cash to support their drug habits. Drug addicts are common shoplifting offenders who often frequent low-security stores and repeat their offense again and again. They are also more likely to steal high-value items than other shoplifters because their end goal is to get as much cash as they can to use toward buying more drugs.
Research shows that the demographic group most likely to shoplift is juvenile males. Young men steal clothing, jewelry, or other items they otherwise can’t afford so they can use these items to elevate themselves in the ranks of their social groups. Teenage girls are also likely to steal clothing, jewelry, makeup, and accessories for the same reason.
Compared to other crimes, the risk of getting caught for shoplifting is low. It’s relatively easy to avoid being seen while shoplifting if you know how to stay away from security professionals and cameras in places like dressing rooms and bathrooms.
Case-in-point: only one in 150 people get caught shoplifting. Also, when shoplifters are caught, they are often able to use excuses like, “I meant to pay for this item” or “I forgot it was in my bag” or “This is a misunderstanding.” This, however, is something that seems to be changing as many retail stores get tougher regarding how they handle shoplifting.
Impersonal view of retailers
Many shoplifters see retailers as nameless, faceless corporations that won’t miss a few items that they can simply write off as a loss. They tell themselves it’s no big deal. Shoplifters tend to say this to hide their shame and self-condemnation. This is a form of denial, a common problem among frequent shoplifters.
Kleptomania is the psychological disorder that provokes stealing without planned-out thoughts. By contrast, a compulsive shoplifter will carefully plan out their thefts in advance. Both kleptomaniacs and compulsive shoplifters often struggle with depression, feelings of low self-worth, and abusive or difficult childhoods.
Ironically, many shoplifters have strong morals in other areas of their life, steady income, and even high social status. Because of their double lives, they often struggle with a pervading sense of deep shame. They will do anything to avoid public humiliation, which is why they often deny their problem when confronted.
The common trait all shoplifters feel is a sense of deprivation, according Terrence Shulman, author of Something for Nothing: Shoplifting Addiction and Recovery. For shoplifters, he says, “Stealing offers—at least momentarily—relief, peace, and completion.” They use stealing to fill an inner need with physical items… until they feel empty again, and the cycle repeats.
People who shoplift for psychological reasons can be treated with medication to correct a chemical imbalance. New research shows that a dopamine deficit can drive people to steal so they can cope with unwanted emotions. Shoplifters may also overcome their tendencies by receiving talk therapy.
If you or a loved one has been charged with shoplifting, contact our offices. The punitive charges vary depending on the value of the items stolen, but start at up to $1,000 plus up to 90 days in jail for stealing an item worth less than $500. We have a track record of getting results in cases like these, and we will protect your rights and help you navigate your situation.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).