To those not in the retail loss prevention industry, the image of a shoplifter may evoke images of kids swiping a pack of bubble gum, or a teenager just swiping stuff for kicks… most likely a one-time thing. Those outside of this industry may be unaware of the depth of employee theft, organized retail crime (ORC), and other causes of theft and repeat theft. Below – we review “Susie” — a woman in the UK with a propensity for shoplifting that spans over 20 years — a compulsion that seems to dominate her life.
It all began at the age of seven, when a friend’s parent asked her to hide items in her pocket while out shopping. Within months it had progressed to stealing classmates’ toys at her elementary school and stealing items from a friend’s house… nothing major, crayons or a hair band.
“I did it mainly because I wanted the item. I would ask my parents to buy me certain things and they wouldn’t, so I would then just take them.” Susie says it was these experiences that formed the basis of her addiction, which she now says is “out of control.” She shoplifts practically every day, taking anything from cosmetics and clothes to food and pajamas for her kids and often while her two young children are with her.
Before she left her job to take care of her children, she said she would steal “money out of the till, money out of people’s bags or purses” at work.
“If I can take it, I will take it. It’s basically an urge. There’s something in my brain that’s just telling me ‘you want it, so take it. Recently I was at my friend’s house and I saw a skirt that really caught my eye. I didn’t take it that day initially, because I couldn’t. But it played on my mind, so I arranged a time to go back to the house and made a plan of how I could get it and I just took it.”
She believes none of her friends or family knows of her addiction, and has no plans to tell her husband. “I don’t think he would understand. It’s quite embarrassing, I’m ashamed of it.”
Simon Stephens, a lead counselor at Addictions UK, is not surprised by this reaction. He says it is comparable to the experiences of many other people going through addictions. He believes this pathological need to shoplift is far more common than people realize “It is a genuine addiction that stems from the same issue as a gambling or drinking addiction. These people shoplift because they feel compelled to act by their subconscious, rather than for financial gain. They experience an emotional urge to experience the rush of adrenaline, and consequently dopamine, they receive from shoplifting, and the only way to suppress that is by giving in. From an addict’s point of view, this rush mitigates all thought of those they are affecting.”
Based on some information Susie has provided, it has been estimated she has stolen about $140,000 worth of goods in total. She says that she is surprised, “but not really, just because of how long I’ve been stealing and to the extent I’ve been stealing”
Susie says she does feel remorse, but it stretches only so far. “After I’ve taken an item, a lot of the time I’ll feel guilt. Especially if it’s been taken from a friend or someone I know. But when I steal from a department store, I don’t feel as guilty. I feel they’re not going to notice. They make a lot of money anyway.”
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