In April 2014, a Tumblr user published a list of Tumblr accounts operated by what she called “Tumblr’s Bling Ring.” The juvenile shoplifting rings were allegedly a group of young high school women that considered themselves the “crème de la crème” of an online community of shoplifters. Soon after, Jezebel.com reported the leak and the news went viral.
Before they were exposed, members of the so-called “Bling Ring” would share shoplifting tips which included methods on how to get away with shoplifting merchandise, suggestions about which tools could be used for removing EAS security devices, and lists of stores that they considered easy shoplifting targets.
They would steal from many different store locations, from department stores to specialty shops. The young women would offer up bizarre disclaimers about what they were doing. They would repost and celebrate each other’s shoplifting victories, with photos to trophy their shoplifting bounty. They would even categorize their shoplifting “hauls”; complete with lists of the stolen items and the total cost of their shoplifting gains.
In response to the story, Tumblr took down pages that appeared to show obvious criminal activity. Some members immediately changed their screen names to avoid getting caught. But others took a much different approach to the “Bling Ring” shoplifters.
Early accounts called the shoplifting posts “hilarious.” One user wrote, “I just realized that the post called us Tumblr’s “Bling Ring” and I’m even more flattered. I’m famous. for free.” Several shoplifting teens even complained that they hadn’t been included on the list, and have formed blogging sites in an attempt to gain more notoriety.
A year or two later, this community of juvenile shoplifters—and many others—are alive and well, and bragging about their reckless behavior on the world wide web. But how is it that so many of these young women feel the need to become shoplifters, and then are willing to openly boast about their illegal shoplifting activities on the internet?
Reading the blog postings, it’s clear that most aren’t simply stealing based on needs, or to feed other illegal habits. Many appear to be high school age. Many are looking for a place to try out new identities, express opinions and find acceptance and community. Not only are they trading shoplifting tips, they’re sharing personal experiences and life lessons.
Like any clique, these foolish young women seem to be using shoplifting as a means to promote a sense of community and provide a forum for simple competition. Many of those involved are very open about their personal lives and beliefs on many different levels, and treat their illegal acts more like a game and a means of seeking cheap thrills rather than the criminal behavior that it is. Unfortunately, the enjoyment value of nail polishes, T-shirts, lip gloss, and underwear will never justify the heartbreak and humiliation that goes along with getting caught.
We don’t see postings that discuss what it’s like to have parents pick up their young shoplifter in a retail office and see the disappointment in their faces. There’s not many posts that discuss being taken away in handcuffs in the back of a patrol car, or facing weeks of anxiety wondering about the outcome of an upcoming court appearance. We don’t read in these blogs about the financial costs, or the costs that come with damaged reputations, lost jobs, or lost trust.
Juvenile shoplifting should not be seen as a means of “acting out” or “channeling anger.” It’s stealing, and it has consequences. Internal negotiations like, “it’s not like doing illegal drugs, rape, or murder” won’t hold a lot of weight when facing a judge in a courtroom. The personal belief systems and the opinions of others might not match the “thrill” or the “challenge” that shoplifting might offer, but the potential consequences simply aren’t worth the risks. Think you’re too smart or too good not to get caught? There are a lot of arrogant people in jail right now that felt the same way.
Juvenile shoplifting and other forms of retail theft costs the retail community tens of billions of dollars each and every year. It’s not a game. Retailers are paying attention, and taking the necessary steps to protect their products. For those of us in the retail loss prevention community, we are very well aware of the many different motivations that lead to shoplifting incidents in retail stores. Of all the reasons why we see individuals make these poor decisions, it would seem that gamesmanship is likely one of the most foolish.
This article was originally published in 2015 and was updated August 2, 2016.