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The top 9 shoplifted items

Retail theft rising, with more middle-class shoplifters, study finds.

By Teresa Mears Nov 19, 2009 2:18PM

It’s no surprise that, in this economy, shoplifting is up. Worldwide, retail theft grew 5.9% last year, accounting for about $208 per family.


A new Global Retail Theft Barometer study, produced by the Centre For Retail Research, found that the greatest increase in retail theft came in North America, where the rate grew 8.1%. (The highest rate of theft was in India.) The study’s authors attributed the increase in theft to the recession and also to stores cutting their security budgets. The survey covered July 2008 to June 2009.


Bruce Crumley, writing for Time magazine from Paris, talks about “one of the more surprising findings: A growing number of new shoplifters are outwardly reputable, middle-class people who are walking off with French cheeses, quality meats, cosmetics, mobile phones, clothing and other goodies that they feel they need to maintain a quality of life they can no longer afford.”


Crumley quoted Joshua Bamfield, director of the Centre for Retail Research, who said that organized criminals account for the biggest segment of shoplifters, but that retailers are seeing more middle-class thieves, too, some of whom believe they’re completely justified in stealing during the recession, even if they’re not stealing necessities. Several publications have written about the rise of middle-class shoplifting in Britain, but we didn't see any comparable reporting about middle-class theft in the United States.

"Though most thieves rationalize their acts, the current situation has many people feeling the entire system is broken, that politicians are too corrupt or inept to fix it, and that there's nothing wrong with stealing from these big companies and fancy stores that -- the thinking goes -- are themselves making out like thieves," Bamfield told Time. "There's a real perception among many new shoplifters that if you work hard, put money away and play the game, you're asking for someone to come along and rip you off."

And what were people stealing, you might ask?


Seth Figerman of Main Street has done a round-up of the most shoplifted items of 2009:

  • Razor blades and shaving products.
  • Cosmetics, especially face creams and perfumes.
  • Wii and other gaming systems.
  • Alcohol.
  • Meat.
  • Satellite navigation, or GPS, systems.
  • Brand-name clothes, purses and accessories.
  • Infant formula. Some stores lock up powdered formula, which is not only sold on the black market at a higher price but used to cut drugs. Who knew?
  •  Watches.

So there’s the list of the goods most prized (or at least the most purloined) by thieves. Any surprises? We can’t think of any situation, beyond total destitution, that would justify shoplifting, but are we just hopelessly old-fashioned?


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