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Shoplifting in America: How Much is Stolen,
From Where, Who is Doing it and More

Every day, more than $25 million worth of goods are stolen from retailers -- an amount that adds up to over $13 billion each year, according to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP). Nearly every type of store out there, from thrift shops to supermarkets to department stores, is vulnerable to shoplifters' sticky fingers.


Routine shoplifters say they're caught an average of only once in every 48 times they steal, according to Peter Berlin, founder of the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention.

In all, NASP estimates that there are 23 million shoplifters in the United States today (that's one in 11 people!). And, in the last five years, over 10 million people have been caught shoplifting.

Why Do People Shoplift?

Shoplifting impacts not only the retail store and the perpetrator (if he or she is caught). It also ends up costing YOU money, in the form of increased costs for goods (after stores must devote more money to security). So why do people do it?

Contrary to what many people believe, most people do not shoplift because they need something and can't pay for it. Nor do they do it because of greed. Instead, according to Peter Berlin, founder of NASP, most shoplifters steal "to get something for nothing."

"To most non-professional shoplifters, 'getting something for nothing' is like giving themselves a 'gift' or 'reward,' which in turn gives them a 'lift.' Many people feel they need a 'lift' just to get through the week or even the day," Berlin says.

While some people shoplift to substitute for a loss in their life (such as a divorce or lost job), others do it to get "payback" for how hard they work. Still others are actually addicted to the "rush" or "high" they get from stealing.

Berlin also points out that others use shoplifting as a "relief mechanism" for anxiety, boredom or even depression. In fact, studies have found that one-third of shoplifters have been diagnosed with depression.

Who Shoplifts? Learn the Seven Different Types

While shoplifters can be men or women, young or old (NASP says that 75 percent of shoplifters are adults, and 55 percent of them started shoplifting in their teens), they can be broken down into two major types: amateurs and professionals.


Experts say shoplifting is often a psychological problem, stemming from feelings of anger, depression, low self-esteem or inadequacy.

Amateur shoplifters, who make up the majority, may shoplift often, every day even, but do not make their living from shoplifting. Professional shoplifters, meanwhile, may use elaborate schemes to steal and do so to make a living. According to NASP, professional shoplifters make up only 3 percent of all shoplifters.

Interestingly, the majority of shoplifting cases are not planned out. Some 73 percent of adult and 72 percent of youth shoplifters say they did not plan to steal in advance, according to NASP.

However, shoplifters can be broken down even further, into seven distinct groups, according to Terrence Shulman, JD, LMSW, ACSW, CAC, CPC, founder of The Shulman Center, a treatment center for people with theft and spending addictions. They are:

  • Addictive-compulsive shoplifters (75 percent) (These people often have other compulsive addictions, such as overeating, shopping, drug use, or gambling, and often have repressed anger as well.)

  • Professionals, who steal for profit or lifestyle (5 percent)

  • The impoverished, who steal out of economic need (5 percent)

  • The thrill seekers, who steal on a dare or for excitement (5 percent)

  • Drug and gambling addicts, who steal to pay for their habit (5 percent)

  • Kleptomaniacs, who steal for no reason (1 percent)

  • The absent-minded (such as the elderly, people on medications, people in a hurry or those with cognitive or memory issues) (1 percent)

Shoplifters Don't Get Caught That Often

Even with all the lengths stores take to prevent shoplifting, including electronic tags/ink tags on merchandise, security cameras, locked cases, mirrors, patrol officers and more, shoplifters often get away with their crime.

"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," says Berlin.

Meanwhile, regular shoplifters do so about 1.6 times every week, stealing anywhere from $2 to $200 worth of merchandise each time, according to NASP. It's even common for them to steal some products and buy others during the same visit!

Help for Shoplifters

Most experts believe that chronic shoplifting is a psychological problem, often stemming from unresolved anger or depression, or problems with self-esteem, addictions and more. Many shoplifters also feel underappreciated and unloved.

If you or someone you love has a problem with shoplifting, there are support groups out there that can help, such as Cleptomaniacs And Shoplifters Anonymous (CASA). Support groups are available nationwide and online.

Recommended Reading

The Biggest Crime You've Never Heard of -- Return Fraud -- and How the Criminals Do It

The Unethical but (Mostly) Legal Retail Shopping Tactics of Devil Consumers


National Association for Shoplifting Prevention

Cleptomaniacs and Shoplifters Anonymous, a Division of the Shulman Center

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