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Shoplifting (also known as retail theft or product liberation by many political shoplifters) is theft of merchandise for sale in a shop, store, or other retail establishment, by an ostensible patron. It is one of the most common crimes that police and the courts deal with.

Most shoplifters are amateurs; however, there are people and groups who make their living from shoplifting, and they tend to be more skilled. Some individuals shoplift in an effort to resist selling their labor, and/or to protest corporate power. These individuals target --often exclusively-- chain stores; Wal-Mart is an especially popular target for political shoplifters.

A common slang term for shoplifting in Australia, Britain, and the United States is "five-finger discount". In the U.S., it is often referred to as "boosting"; those who sell shoplifted goods (at a steep discount) are referred to as "boosters."

Economic Impact and Response from Shops[edit]

Retailers report that shoplifting has significant effect on their bottom line, stating that about 0.6% of all inventory disappears to shoplifters. In 2001 it was claimed that shoplifting costs US retailers $25 million a day. Other observers, however, believe industry shoplifting numbers to be greatly exaggerated. Studies have found that over half of what is reported as shoplifting is either employee theft or fraud, and often justify shoplifting as a "victimless crime."

According to the 2001 National Retail Security Survey conducted by the University of Florida retail operations suffered an average annual shrinkage percentage of 1.75% in 2000. Although most retailers experience a shrinkage percentage of less then 2% some smaller retailers often experience monthly and annual average shrinkage percentages as high as 20%. According a study by the National Retail Security Survey 30.6% of shrinkage comes from shoplifting, 46% from employee embezzlement, 17.6% from administrative error, and 5.8% from vendor fraud.

Companies have introduced many technologies to combat shoplifting. Many stores have video cameras filming all areas of the store; larger stores are often patrolled by undercover investigators. Security devices are often affixed to products that set off alarms at the store exit if they are not deactivated or removed by a cashier.

According to the 2004 17th Annual Retail Theft survey conducted by Jack L. Hayes International 689,340 were shoplifters were apprehended by 27 of the major U.S. retailers. This figure was a 4.86% increase from total of 657,414 shoplifters apprehended in 2003. In 2004 $70,039,564 dollars were recovered from shoplifting apprehensions compared to $68,927,833 in 2003. In 2004 the average dollar value for a shoplifting apprehension was $101.60 dollars.

Shoplifting is classified under the Uniform Crime Report as a Part I offense of Larceny-Theft. Demographically, shoplifting is for the most part proportional to the population as a whole. Statistically speaking, 64% of all shoplifting incidents are commited by persons of Caucasian decent. This is in stark contrast to the stereotypical view that miniority populations commit most acts of shoplifting.

Legal Status in different Countries[edit]


In Canada shoplifting is regarded as theft. If the amount equivalent to the stolen items is under $5,000 CAD, it is thus up to the prosecutor to decide if it will be prosecuted as a summary or indictable offence. In most cases it is treated as a lesser summary offence.

United States[edit]

In most states in the United States, shoplifting is a misdemeanor crime of petty larceny when specifically committed against a retail establishment by a patron. Some states do not distinguish between shoplifting and other forms of petty larceny, although a judge may consider the context of any crime in sentencing.

In some jurisdictions within the United States, certain egregious instances of shoplifting involving large dollar amounts of merchandise and/or a high degree of criminal sophistication may be prosecuted and punished as burglary or otherwise as a felony. The dollar amount to constitute felony shoplifting can range from be quite low such as $100 in Vermont, to quite high such as $2,500 in Wisconsin. In some states a high dollar amount can constitute a higher felony, a prime example being Arizona where a shoplifting incident greater then $2,000 constitutes a class five felony. Indiana is the only state in the country where an act of shoplifting is considered a felony regardless of dollar value.

Shoplifting can lead to far more serious charges then normally would be assumed. In most states an employee who shoplifts from their employer can be charged with shoplifting and embezzlement. In Arizona a shoplifter who is caught attempting to steal without any means of payment is guilty of third degree burglary. In Illinois a shoplifter who resists detainment is guilty of aggravated battery. In some U.S. jurisdictions, a repeat misdemeanor shoplifting offender can be charged with a felony for recidivism.

Exactly when the crime of shoplifting has been committed varies from state to state. Most commonly, statutes dictate that a person must leave a retail store with intent not to purchase an item before they can be detained. Some states such as Arizona have more strict shoplifting statutes. According to Arizona law 13-1805 subsection B "Any person who knowingly conceals upon himself or another person unpurchased merchandise of an mercantile establishment while within the mercantile establishment shall be presumed to have the necessary culpable mental state pursuant to subsection A of this section."

Some recidivist shoplifters in the United States have been given long sentences under three-strikes laws, such as Leandro Andrade, who received a sentence of 50 years to life; such sentences have been affirmed as neither cruel nor unusual punishment by the U.S. Supreme Court. See also Fixing Broken Windows for an explanation of the theory underlying such laws.

England and Wales[edit]

There is no specific offence of shoplifting in England and Wales, and offenders are usually charged with the offence of theft but are liable to be made subject to orders for restitution and compensation by the criminal courts.

Increasingly, retail companies are using the civil courts as a means of recovering compensation and obtaining exclusion orders where appropriate. In addition, companies are issuing exclusion letters to offenders and those they suspect as a means of attempting to encourage the police to charge those arrested for theft with burglary on the basis that they are trespassers. This remains a controversial issue and, generally, the police are reluctant to charge with the more serious offence.

Common Shoplifting Scams[edit]

Baby Stroller Boxes[edit]

This scam involves the use of baby stroller boxes, which tend to be quite large in size. A would be shoplifter removes the stroller from the box and proceeds to conceal a large amount of merchandise inside. The would be shoplifter then reseals the box and takes it a cashier stand, where they pay the purchse price for the stroller. If the scam is successful the would be shoplifter walks out of the retailer with concealed merchandise still inside the stroller box.

Bag Switching[edit]

Bag switching methods are generally attempted by a group of two shoplifters. Typically the first shoplifter will have a large bag and gather a large amount of merchandise quickly to get the attention of a Loss Prevention Investigator. Once the first shoplifter knows that they are being followed they will conceal the merchandise into the bag. The first shoplifter will then switch their bag with the second shoplifter, who usually has a matching bag that is already filled with items that don’t belong to the retailer. Often the Loss Prevention Investigator will miss the switch and arrest the first shoplifter. Subsequently, the first shoplifter may claim false arrest and receive a gift card from the retailer.

Booster Boxes[edit]

A booster box is a device that allows a would be shoplifter to conceal a large quantity of merchandise on their person. Typically professional shoplifters of large girth most commonly attempt this scam. The use of booster boxes is most prevelant at clothing retailers due to the fact that clothing merchandise can easily be molded to fit better inside the box. Some professional shoplifters have been known in the past to attempt to use booster boxes to conceal electronics and DVDs.

Cash Drawer Theft[edit]

Cash drawer theft is usually attempted by a shoplifter purchasing a low dollar item and giving the cashier a large bill or by asking a cashier to change a large bill. As the cashier is counting change the item the shoplifter will attempt to create a distraction. One such is telling the cashier that the cashier is giving the shoplifter the wrong amount of change. Once the cashier looks down to recount the change the shoplifter will reach into the cash drawer and grab what they can. The cashier then hands the shoplifter back the change and shoplifter leaves the store. Usually cash drawer theft is not detected until audits of the register are completed and show a shortage. To combat cash drawer theft many retailers will not accept bills larger then twenty dollars or will not give out change at a cashier register.

Counterfeit Bill Passing[edit]

Although the act of counterfeiting currency is a far more serious crime then the act of shoplifting, counterfeiters often use retail outlets to launder their fake bills and in effect are stealing merchandise at the same time. Typically, a counterfeiter will use a large denomination bill, like a fifty or a hundred, to purchase a low priced item. If the currency is accepted, the counterfeiter successfully launders the fake bill and leaves with the merchandise and legal currency as change. Most retailers require their cashiers to verify large bills with a counterfeit detection pen. However, due to poor training or when faced with long lines of customers this procedure is often disregarded.

Fake Returns[edit]

Sometimes shoplifters will actually gather an item from the selling floor and try to receive money for it without a receipt at the return station. Although this method is not as fool proof as the receipt matching method, it is very effective particularly when done to an inexperienced cashier. Usually the shoplifter will start complaining to the cashier about their inability to return the merchandise. Typically the shoplifter will state that they lost their receipt or threaten the cashier by stating that they want to talk to their supervisor. To avoid confrontation the cashier will ring up the return and give the shoplifter dollar value of the merchandise.

Fitting Room Bagging[edit]

Typically this scam is seen most often in large clothing retailers. This scam generally preys upon the common Loss Prevention policy prohibiting apprehension of shoplifters when concealment is not actually seen by a investigator. A would be shoplifter enters a retail establishment with a large bag. The would be shoplifter then selects a large amount of merchandise and takes it to a fitting room. Inside the would be shoplifter conceals the merchandise into the bag out of sight of store employees and store investigators.

Gift Card Cloning[edit]

In this scam, a normal store gift card with no value attached is stolen from a store. The shoplifter then clones the magnetic strip on the back of the gift card and makes a copy or copies of it. The original gift card is then returned the store by the shoplifter. The gift card is activated once purchased by another customer, and the dollar amount applied to the legitimate gift card is passed to all the cloned gift cards.

Grab and Run[edit]

A common shoplifting techinique is known by the Loss Prevention community as a "grab and run." Simply put, a shoplifter enters a retail establishment usually with prior knowledge of what they are looking for. The shoplifter moves very quickly toward the merchadise they wish to steal. Once the shoplifter has found the merchandise they proceed to the nearest store exit, usually running. Due to the short time that shoplifter is inside the store persons who attempt this scam are rarely caught, or in some cases even detected.

Less common is for a group of people to rush a store and grab as much merchandise as possible and then rush out. The speed with which this happens and the large numbers of people involved make it difficult to stop.

Metal-lined Clothing or Containers[edit]

Metal-lined sacks, containers, or clothing (such as aluminum foil-lined undergarments) allow a would-be shoplifter to shield the RFID tags attached to merchandise concealed on their person from the scanners at the door of a store. 2001 Colorado House Bill 01-1221 made it a misdemeanor to possess, use, or know about and fail to report others who possess RFID shielding devices with intent to foil anti-shoplifting devices.

Other Return Tricks[edit]

Sometimes would be shoplifters attempt to return packages to a retailer that contain no merchandise, a used item, or in some cases things like bricks. This scam is aimed at inexperienced or naive cashiers, in hopes that they will not check the package during the return. When successful, the fake return is usually not discovered for several hours.

Receipt Matching[edit]

The receipt matching scam involves using receipts to match merchandise codes from the receipt to items in found in a store. Most retailers use company specific merchandise codes on their merchandise so store personnel can identify the location more quickly and efficiently. Additionally the merchandise is used to verify merchandise that was purchased at a particular retailer during a return. This information is printed onto the receipts of purchased merchandise.

Typically shoplifters will search either retailer’s parking lot or trashcans looking for receipts that have a high dollar item on it. The shoplifter then enters the store and compares the code on the receipt to the codes printed on the merchandise in the store. Once the shoplifter finds a match they will take the merchandise to the return area and receive money for. Typically, to avoid detection, shoplifters will use a piece of paper with the merchandise code they are looking for written on it.

Shopping Cart Magic[edit]

Shopping cart tricks are often disregarded by Loss Prevention personnel. Typically, older or professional shoplifters usually attempt this scam. The scam works in the following way: when the shoplifter first enters the store, they locate an empty shopping cart. The shoplifter finds the item they are looking for and typically place on the bottom or under the baby seat. The shoplifter then continues to gather a small dollar amount of merchandise and places it in the shopping cart. The shoplifter then brings the shopping cart to register and removes all the merchandise with the exception of the item they wish to steal. If the cashier is not paying attention the shoplifter will usually be able to get the merchandise past them without much effort. After paying for the smaller dollar items the shoplifter leaves the store and successfully pulls off the scam. The most prevalent method used to combat this scam is the use of door personnel who are trained to ask for receipts for high dollar and un-bagged merchandise.

Shopping Cart Passing[edit]

Shopping cart passing is usually attempted by a two-person group of shoplifters. The first shoplifter will gather the desired merchandise into a shopping cart and take it to the register. The cashier will then ring up all the merchandise and place it in bags. Once the total is rung up, the first shoplifter states that they forgot their wallet in their car. The first shoplifter will then exit the store and most cashiers will put the shopping cart off to the side and resume ringing up customers. At this point, the second shoplifter moves in and grabs the cart and walks out of the store with the stolen merchandise in bags.

Ticket Switching[edit]

Ticket switching is among the oldest shoplifting scams that retailers have faced. Typically, the shoplifter finds an item on clearance and removes the clearance tag. The shoplifter then finds a high dollar item and applies the clearance tag to it. The shoplifter then brings the high dollar item to an unsuspecting cashier and pays for it at a clearance price. Most retailers today now utilize electronic barcodes that when scanned will ring up the correct price. Usually, when the shoplifter challenges the price a cashier supervisor will refuse to ring up the item at the clearance price. Some more clever shoplifters are now utilizing modern printing and digital technology to copy low dollar bars codes for retail merchandise packages. These shoplifters then print bar code labels that will actually ring up at cashier registers.

Anti Shoplifting Options[edit]

Loss prevention agents[edit]

Many stores, particularly large chain stores, employ loss prevention agents (or "LPAs") to monitor shoppers. Sometimes uniformed LPAs are used as a deterrent to shoplifting, though retailers are known to have LPAs dressed casually so that shoplifters are not aware of their presence.

Closed Circuit Television[edit]

CCTV monitoring is an important anti shoplifting method. Retailers focused on loss prevention often devote most of their resources to this technology.

Electronic Article Surveillance[edit]

Electronic article surveillance is second only to CCTV in popularity amongst retailers looking for inventory protection. EAS refers to the security tags that attach to a garment and cause an alarm to sound when removed from the store.


See also[edit]

External links[edit]

This article contains content from Wikipedia. Current versions of the GNU FDL article Shoplifting on WP may contain information useful to the improvement of this article WP