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Most Stolen Products: Alcohol


Shoplifters reach for the highbrow champagnes or the cheap vodka, but less of everything in between.

It's no surprise that people steal alcohol. The temptation to acquire something that makes you feel that good -- regardless of whether you can afford it -- is hardwired into our dopamine-craving brain reward center. What's more surprising is how few of us give in to that temptation.

At least 75% of the adult US populace are drinkers; and about 6% of the total are alcoholics.

In last year's Global Retail Theft Barometer, specialist liquor stores suffered shrinkage rates (defined as the percentage of loss of products between manufacture and point of sale) of 0.79%. Step out of your wholesaler and into a grocery store however, and the shrinkage rate more than doubles, shooting up to 2.42% as a percentage of sales.

Clearly liquor stores know what to look for when guarding their precious treasure against those of us temporarily in the grip of our darker angels. Mark Doyle, President of Jack Hayes International, publishers of another annual retail theft survey, explains that would-be thieves typically target high-end items "such as Grey Goose vodka and Vue champagne, which are commonly shoplifted if not locked up. Also 'in' beverages for young adults (i.e. flavored drinks like Mike's Hard Lemonade, Smirnoff Ice, etc.) are frequently stolen and consumed by teenagers and young adults."

Perhaps because their brains haven't yet fully developed, many teens, when asked, don't even consider stealing alcohol shoplifting according an admittedly casual poll run by the website Radical Parenting.

Rather, "Stealing alcohol is like a rite of passage," brags one teen. "You do it to grow up. Plus we practically deserve to get alcohol for free because we CAN'T buy it. I would buy it if they would let me. I steal it because they will not let me buy it."

But if you're out for a five-finger discount on some hooch, they've probably seen you coming. At Astor Place Wines & Spirits, one of New York's largest liquor stores and a family-run business for over 50 years, Sales Manager David Phillips breaks it down for us. There's two main types of alcohol that get stolen; or at least, that people attempt to steal, he says.

"The very low end things people just want to grab for a quick buzz, usually cheap vodka," observes Phillips. "Often the people going for that sort of thing are already drunk.

"Then there's also what you'd call hip-hop-related items, which are Johnnie Walker Black Label and Hennessy Cognac -- that kind of thing. We have to keep them under lock and key."

Black Label and Hennessy are easily the most stolen items at Astor Wines & Spirits, but Cristal and Moet are also popular, and there are more attempts at the bubblies via internet fraud. But there's one truly odd method of shoplifting that may surprise you: "We get a lot of phone calls from people claiming to be hearing-impaired. They use a TDD phone operator who calls up and speaks what they type," says Phillips. "And as soon as they say that I always know it's an attempted fraud and terminate the call. If they were actually deaf they could just type in their order on our website. Invariably they're after Hennessy or Cristal; I guess they're trying to play on sympathy for the deaf."

One other popular drink to plunder is Crystal Head Vodka, as "People like the novelty bottle," explains Phillips, which is shaped like a crystal skull.

"There's probably bottles of wine walking out constantly too, but it's harder to notice."

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