July 28, 2011
I recently interviewed author Rachel Shteir about her book, "The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting" (Penguin Press, $25.95).
Since meeting Shteir, I witnessed shoplifting firsthand while on my lunch break. It turns out shoplifting is much more common than I'd realized. According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (
•The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP) says more than $13 billion worth of goods is stolen from retailers each year, which is more than $35 million per day.
•The NASP says more than 10 million people have been caught shoplifting in the last five years.
•A study by the Food Marketing Institute from 2009 says an estimated 33.1 percent of total losses are attributed to employee theft.
•Shteir says in the 1700s, shoplifters were often put to death by hanging in Europe. One woman Mary Jones, was hanged in 1771 for shoplifting a piece of linen to clothe her baby.
•Meat was the most shoplifted item in the United States in 2006 and 2007, according to the Food Marketing Institute.
•A how-to book on stealing, "Steal This Book" by Abbie Hoffman, sold more than 100,000 copies in 1971. Shteir says no newspaper would review it, and many states banned it. Hoffman became a celebrity, and the book stimulated a shoplifting craze when it was released.
•The Centre for Retail Research in Britain says women are inclined to steal cosmetics, clothes, jewelry and perfume, while men steal electronics, televisions and power tools.
•Approximately 25 percent of shoplifters are kids and 75 percent are adults, according to the NASP, and 88 percent of the adult shoplifters say they started shoplifting in their teens.
•Book shoplifting is the only kind of theft to merit its own disease — bibliomania — the disease of wanting to possess books, Shteir wrote. (One rare book thief stole 23,000 volumes from archives and libraries across the country just to hoard them.)
When I was 12, I stole a candy bar. I felt so bad I returned it to the store and told my mom. The store asked that I pay what the candy bar was worth (a quarter) and promise not to do it again. How about you? Have you ever stolen something and gotten away with it? Maybe you weren't so lucky?
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