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Shoplifting: Boosting Everyone's Cost of Living


Retail crime costs retailers $25 billion a year-a cost ultimately shouldered by consumers.

Retail crime costs retailers $25 billion a year-a cost ultimately shouldered by consumers, who are already straining under the weight of higher prices across the board.

And, it's not kids swiping a pack of Bubble Yum. Shoplifting today is big business.

According to the National Retail Federation's third annual Organized Retail Crime survey, 79% of retailers said they've been victimized by shoplifting rings during the past year. The survey also found that 71% of retailers say they have noticed an increase in organized retail theft activity in the past 12 months, up from 48% in 2006.

"A store could lose its entire inventory of a popular item by one professional shoplifting ring, making it now unavailable when there should be a week's supply on hand," said Joseph LaRocca, vice president of loss prevention for the NRF.

Officials say the most-stolen items include Crest Whitestrips, Duracell batteries, razor blades, and Rogaine.

Hair-loss prevention: problematic for retail loss prevention

University of Florida criminologist Richard C. Hollinger, Ph.D., who directs the National Retail Security Survey, says that higher prices due to retail theft add about $440 to an average family of four's annual expenditures.

Jack L. Hayes International, a leading loss prevention and inventory shrinkage control consulting firm, pegs the average per-case shoplifting loss at $126.87 and the average per-case dishonest employee loss at $724.15.

What about individuals who steal?

Shoplifters Alternative, a national recovery organization, claims that 1 out of 11 Americans is a shoplifter.

Frank Badillo, a senior retail economist with Retail Forward, Inc., a retail research and consulting firm, says there is "a significant correlation between shoplifting and variables that change significantly in an economic downturn such as unemployment claims, the savings rate and retail prices."

But, Terrence Shulman, founder of the Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft and Spending, estimates that only 5% of shoplifters steal out of economic need and that the majority of shoplifters are people with addictive-compulsive personalities who have a great deal of "repressed anger" and exhibit "signs of other compulsive addictions, such as overeating, shopping, drug use, or gambling."

Does this man look angry to you?

Jeff Gottlieb, Ph.D., head of a shoplifting offenders program in Minneapolis, agrees. "The problem isn't financial, it's psychological," he says. "The vast majority of people who shoplift have the money to pay for the items."

Like Jean Eaton, former mayor of Albert Lea, Minnesota?

Mayor Eaton was accused of stealing $800 worth of clothing at Marshall Field's stores in Rochester, Edina, and St. Cloud while she was in office.

Former Albert Lea, MN mayor Jean Eaton

Or Claude Allen, former Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy?

Claude Allen, right

Claude Allen was President George W. Bush's domestic policy advisor (and 2004 nominee to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which was blocked by the Senate Judiciary Committee) until shortly after his arrest on March 9, 2006 for a year-long "fraudulent return scheme" at Washington, D.C. area Target and Hecht's stores.

Detectives from the Montgomery County (Maryland) Police Retail Theft Unit reported that Allen would buy merchandise, take it to his car, then return to the store with the receipt. He would then select duplicates of the items he had just bought, and request a refund.

Throughout 2005 he obtained refunds for items ranging from clothing, a Bose theater system, stereo equipment, and photo printers, to goods valued at a mere $2.50.

His total take? $5,000-enough to be charged with a felony.

Claude Allen, caught

Shoring up Dr. Gottlieb's position that "the vast majority of people who shoplift have the money to pay for the items," Allen's income at the White House was $161,000 a year.

Which is $161,000 more than another well-known shoplifter earned for inventing a method of guiding torpedoes via radio control.

Hedy Lamarr, screen star of the 1930's and 40's, was granted U.S. Patent #2292387 on August 11, 1942 for "Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum" technology, which is still in use today-Wi-Fi Internet access relies on it, as do CDMA digital cell phone systems.

Hedy Lamarr's (Markey was her married name) patent

24 years later, Lamarr was arrested for boosting $86 worth of cosmetics from the May department store in Los Angeles, but was acquitted by a 10-2 jury vote.

Sticky-fingered Wi-Fi inventor Hedy Lamarr

Lamarr wasn't part of the "vast majority of people" who have the money to pay for what they take.

She died penniless in January, 2000.

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