Undercover #8216;shoppers#8217; on lookout in December

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 3, 2007


listen up.

See that good-looking man in the Buckeye sweatshirt? Think he’s just another guy out for the fancy gift combo of Chanel No. 5 so he can stay in the good graces of his mother-in-law this holiday?

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Maybe he is.

And maybe he’s not.

Maybe what he is out shopping for is

—- YOU.

Not every shopper may be who he seems this Christmas season as business

owners know all too well ’tis the season for heavy snows and light fingers.

By the time retailers nationwide finish tallying up their profit margins for 2007, they will be out about $13 billion worth of goods stolen from their shelves.

That’s a loss of more than $35 million a day. So says statistics from the Web site of the Jericho-N.Y.-based National Association for Shoplifting Prevention.

One in 11 are shoplifters, the NASP reports. About a quarter of those are under the age of 18 and more than half of all adult shoplifters started grabbing items and skipping the check out lines when they were teens.

The number of shoplifters stealing to resell — called professionals by the experts — is in the single digits. Usually, they’re drug addicts or gangs in the business of taking from a store to turn stolen merchandise into cash.

Most shoplifters want to keep the items they take and often had no plans to shoplift when they entered the store, studies show.

But whether premeditated or spontaneous, when the tinsel starts coming out of the closet, thieves

pour out of the woodwork.

“You do see an increase of thefts, shoplifting included, at this time of year,’’ says Ironton Police Chief Jim Carey. “I think people don’t have the money. Sometimes you will run across someone out of work and not have money as one of the reasons … not have money to get the family things for Christmas.’’

Putting “shoppers’’ undercover is one way retailers try to keep seasonal shoplifting numbers low.

Another is to stop shoppers with items not in store bags, especially large items like electronics, at the door and ask them to produce a sales receipt.

Also security cameras, used year-round, can help.

“It is a deterrent,’’ Carey said. “A lot of times it is helpful in identifying a suspect and locating a suspect. The more precautions, the more deterrence. Cameras play a role in that.”

Another tack retailers use is called the “10-foot-rule” or observing shoppers within a 10-foot radius.

“The main thing we can do is provide good customer service and use the 10-foot rule,” says Steve Williams, co-manager at the Wal-Mart Super Center at South Point. “You try to acknowledge the customers around you. A lot of times if you are a shoplifter,

you don’t want to be seen. If

you go up and ask them if they need help, they may think someone is watching them.

“It’s more during Christmas … people trying to get presents they normally don’t have to. And who knows today, it could be for drugs.”

The NASB says there is no definitive psychological profile for a shoplifter, but Ashland-based psychologist Dr. Andrea Evans says there are some common traits.

“Among people who shoplift I think they tend to have a sense of entitlement and a kind of quote, ‘I deserve this,’” Evans said. “They are very good at depersonalizing their actions. They say their actions don’t affect another person … that this is a company. They water down that it doesn’t affect other consumers.

“I think a lot of people believe all business

owners are magically rich,” she said. “That if you own your own business, you must be making a lot of money. That is a gross misperception of what it is to own a business … (Shoplifters) think there won’t be any suffering if ‘I take this.’’’

But industry observers say shoplifting can increase prices by up to 15 percent, making this a crime that can hit everyone in the pocketbook.

Also NASP states that shoplifters claim they are caught only one in every 48 times they steal and that the police are only called in about half of those times.

That’s a statistic that can give the shoplifter a confidence boost he doesn’t need.

“In my opinion there is a mechanism that takes place that they almost become grandiose … that they are above getting caught … that they are so special and clever they are going to outwit the system,” Evans said. “Some of them believe, ‘I am so charming, they will let me go.’”

The intense commercialism that envelops Christmas each year with magazine and TV ads bombarding consumers, Evans sees as a major impetus for the rise in shoplifting during the holidays when gift-giving can take on a competitive twist.

“If I buy something bigger, this is better,” she said. “That materialistic things and monetary expense equal the worth of the relationship, rather than making something from the heart.”