Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Tiny Fraud that Costs Billions

Today WBUR's Here and Now interviewed Rachel Shteir, author of a new book exploring shoplifting from historical, psychological, and philosophical points of view. To listen to the interview and read an excerpt of the book, click here.




Every year, shoplifting costs retailers billions, says Rachel Shteir, author of The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting. Here are a few more facts she compiled, in her comprehensive exploration of this widespread but ill-understood crime:
  • In 2009, a survey estimated shoplifting losses at $11.69 billion annually. (source: University of Forida National Retail Security Survey)
  • Shoplifting increases the price we pay for goods every year by about $400.
  • In 2008, an estimated 1,000,000 shoplifting offenses were committed. (source: Dept. of Justice survey, "Uniform Crime Reports")
  • In 2008, shoplifting stats spiked in some cities, climbing 18.7% in Long Beach, CA and 40.6% in L.A. (source: UCR)
  • Store security catches an estimated 1 in 48 incidences of shoplifting. (source: National Association for Shoplifting Prevention)
Retailers and private security companies are reluctant to talk about this epidemic, as we learned when our own Thomas Humphreys, PI reported on shoplifting for Marketplace two years ago. (Gumshoe Finds Who's Got Sticky Fingers, Marketplace, Oct. 2009) We also learned that even though many retailers may feel that an economic downturn fuels people's "need" to steal, the facts are more difficult to pin down.
Our law enforcement sources insist that shoplifters aren't usually stealing out of need, and Shteir agrees. She says their motives are far more complicated, and differ widely. Some steal out of a sense of perceived grievance: I deserve this thing. Others are looking for a dose of excitement or danger: Think Winona Ryder. And many simply want a luxury item they can't afford. After speaking with dozens of admitted shoplifters, Shteir concludes that there are no easy answers, and offers this insight:

"Many shoplifters see themselves as escape artists, stealing out of inscrutable cravings and unexamined desires. Having lost their old solaces, people shoplift as an anodyne against grief or to avenge themselves against uncontrollable forces or as an act of social aggression, to hurl themselves away from their identities as almost-have-nots. Whatever form shoplifting takes, it is as dif´Čücult to stamp out as oil spills or alcoholism." - excerpted from The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting, by Rachel Shteir

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