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Stealing is a crime
Shoplifting is not a "crime". Shoplifting is stealing, or theft.



Shoplifting is not a crime, it is a euphemism for the word stealing or theft, and theft is a crime. I'm not sure why our culture allowed the word "theft" to be different for someone who steals from a store, but the effect has been to minimize its seriousness in the mind of the shoplifter, our society and, interestingly, the police. It would seem logical for someone who is shoplifting to minimize the seriousness of this crime by calling it "shoplifting", but for the police to be swayed to this way of thinking is no less sacrilegious than for an American citizen to allow the euphemism, "casualty of war" to replace the word "death", minimizing the sacrifices of our Veterans.

The same point can be made of the term "petty theft". Doesn't the word "petty" conjure up notions of insignificance, unimportance and irrelevance? It almost appears the police and our society have fallen victim to a very successful propaganda campaign intending to minimize the seriousness of theft from a store by calling it "shoplifting". Actually, if you take time to think about it, whether the item is stolen from a store, your employer, or, has great or small value, it is still stealing. It is also a statement about the shoplifters character.

I don't work for a store or retailer and I do not spend my time trying to show retailers how to better protect themselves from shoplifting with cameras, mirrors, electronic tags, security personnel, etc. I spend my time helping theft offenders think through their actions, attitudes, values and beliefs. Working with most people who steal is not all that difficult. What I have discovered through "THEFT TALK"™ Counseling Service Inc. is that most theft offenders have relatively transparent thinking errors. For example, if you believed 2 + 3 equals 6 you would have a thinking error. Your thinking error would not readily be identified, (How often do you do math out loud or in front of someone, and, to take it even further, how many people are willing to confront you with your math error?). However, once this thinking error is identified, you would be quick to self correct.

There is also such a thing as a "cultural thinking error". One common cultural thinking error occurs when we minimize the impact of shoplifting by buying into the notion that if someone is "shoplifting", he must be a victim. Common cultural thinking errors are that theft offenders are victims of poverty, poor parenting, hunger, alcohol and drugs, ADHD, peer pressure, etc. The fact is, most people who steal from stores are none of the above and, all people who choose to steal from stores have options to stealing. Oh, kleptomania you say? Go to the "THEFT TALK"™ main page and click on the "kleptomania" button. to learn how we view this issue.

"THEFT TALK"™ is of the opinion that people who are shoplifting are not all that different from you and I. Simply stated, the primary differences include, 1) an overdose of selfishness, 2) a stronger than normal attraction to the forbidden, and 3) thinking errors you and I don't have, and, most of all, 4) they don't self punish the thought of stealing. This brief summary is a simplified explanation of how "THEFT TALK"™ works with people who have been shoplifting. If you would like to learn more about "THEFT TALK"™ visit our home page.

Steven Houseworth, MA
Program Director



There are three general classifications of losses:

a) theft by outsiders,
b) employee theft, and
c) inadequate security procedures or violations of established procedures.

Losses, other than those caused by burglaries, holdups, fire damage, accidental breakage, hurricanes, and vandalism are called
shrinkage. Shrinkage is the disappearance of inventory, either in the form of merchandise or money, through illegal actions. It is the amount of merchandise which is unaccounted for at the end of an accounting period or year, after verification of the beginning inventory, markup on purchases, sales, markdowns/surveys and the ending physical inventory. Shrinkage increases the cost of goods sold and decreases profits. A guideline for shrinkage ratios as a percentage of sales is 1%.

Shoplifting. The stealing of merchandise or supplies, by a person not employed by the activity, is a major cause of shrinkage. Similar losses may also occur in warehouse and stockrooms where there is internal traffic by vendors, deliverymen, truck drivers, and servicemen who are permitted to roam about unsupervised. Losses may occur during remodeling or when stocking a new activity prior to opening. Control should always be maintained on loading docks, near restrooms, and exits. While all facilities have some controlled access, they will still have their share of shoplifters.

  1. Actions which may be indicative of shoplifting:
    1. Aimless walking up and down aisles.
    2. Leaving store and returning in a few minutes.
    3. Walking around exchange with unpaid merchandise.
    4. Strained, nervous look.
    5. Placing packages, purse or coat over merchandise.
    6. Left – right glances without moving head.
    7. Frequent, quick glances up from merchandise.
    8. Studying other customers and sales persons instead of merchandise.
    9. Looking in mirrors to see if they are being observed.
    10. Handling a lot of merchandise at different counters.
    11. Entering a fitting room with packages.

    Preventive measures.
    1. Serve or recognize customers as promptly as possible. A simple “Good morning” will do.
    2. Fitting rooms must be controlled. Signs should state clearly the number of garments permitted in room. Inspect fitting rooms frequently for price tickets on floor or empty
    hangers left in stalls.
    3. The showing of expensive items should be limited to two items at a time. Never leave
    customers alone.
    4. Merchandise should be neatly arranged on shelves and display fixtures. Disorderly displays invite theft.
    5. Cashiers should discreetly open luggage and purses and examine for “hideaway” merchandise.
    6. Keep displays and fixture arrangements at minimal heights to eliminate “blind” spots and insure maximum visual control.
    7. All packages could be stapled closed with the cash register tape stapled over the top of bag. Packages too large to bag should have an identifying label affixed to them.
    8. Price marking equipment and supplies must be carefully controlled. Use different colored price tags for markdowns and special sales.
    9. Merchandise price tickets should be machine printed. Handwritten tags are easily duplicated.
    10. Cash registers must be locked when not in use during business hours. When in use, cash drawer must be closed after each transaction. Register drawer should be left in the open position after close of business.
    11. Be aware of patrons wearing coats on a warm day, raincoats during fair weather or conversely no coat during inclement weather.

Internal Theft Prevention
A. It is generally acknowledged that employee theft constitutes between 65-75% of all shrinkage. There is no reason to believe it is any less within your operation. Management at all levels must be aware of their responsibilities. Disregarding an employee’s dishonesty can influence other employees to become involved in similar activity.
B. Policies and procedures for employee shopping, cash and merchandise controls must be stressed during indoctrination training and refresher training. There must be no question in every employee’s mind as to management’s concern for safeguarding the assets.
C. Rules governing employees:
1. Employees will not ring up or compute their own purchases.
2. Cash register receipts, as in the case of all other customer transactions, should be affixed to the package.
3. Employee will take purchase directly to designated storage area where it will remain until the end of employee’s shift.
4. No employee may buy markdown merchandise until the markdown has been offered for sale to exchange patrons for one full day.
5. No employee shall prepare their own refund or make their own exchange.
6. Personal belongings such as handbags and purses should not be permitted on the sales floor or in warehouse areas. Lockers should be provided for employees.
7. Managers have the authority to conduct inspection of parcels, packages or other objects carried into or out of the activity by employees. This authority extends to the inspection of employee lockers in the presence of the employee and another witness.

Customer and Employee Refunds
A. Central refund desks (customer service areas) help reduce shortages, since the possibility of refund fraud is limited to the employees at the desk. Equally important, the central refund desk enables management reconciliation of refund vouchers with returned merchandise, making possible an excellent control system.
B. Refund clerk qualifications should be based upon integrity and the ability to deal with the public. Refund personnel must be able to exercise independent judgment and deal pleasantly with problem situations.
C. Refund/credit slips are to be consecutively numbered and issued numerically. Voided refund/credit slips are to be retained and turned into accounting at the close of business day.
D. Refund check slips are to be filled out completely with an accurate description of the merchandise returned and a sales slip attached. Verifying the amount of the refund with the actual selling price in the exchange will reveal fraudulent practices.
E. A refund may be issued for merchandise paid for by check only after at least seven working days have elapsed in order to insure that it has not been dishonored.
F. Fraudulent refunds and credits issued to nonexistent persons or addresses can be a major loss. Refund customers may be sent a form letter enclosing self addresses stamped envelope. The letter should inquire if the refund was handled satisfactorily and the reason for return. Actual purpose of the letter is to determine if fraudulent refunds or credits are being issued.

Void and “NO SALE” Procedures
A. The area of activity that is most vulnerable to loss is the cash register. An effective loss prevention program must include the prevention of fraudulent voids and the careful monitoring of “no sales” or “zero” rings. It is important to enlist the help of the patron. A simple sign such as one of the following can provide results:

B. Supervisors should issue over-ring slips and authorize voids in the presence of customers and before transaction proceeds. Voided cash register receipt will be attached to the over-ring slip by a supervisor and placed in the cash register to be turned in with other media and cash at the close of the business day.
C. The accounting staff should keep a record of void frequency for all cashiers.
D. “No sales” or “zero” rings should be carefully monitored. Cashiers should have very little reason to open cash drawers during the day except when ringing a sale.

Cash Register Operations.

A) Failure to ring up a sale on the cash register. This is generally accomplished when a customer tenders the exact amount of sale. It is also possible if the clerk is operating with an open register drawer. Clerks may keep
mental or written notes on an accumulate “Overage” which is removed later.

B) Under-ring a sale, but charge the customer the full sell price. This most often occurs during peak traffic periods. The register stub is discarded and not given to the customer.
This practice is easier to accomplish when register windows cannot be viewed by the customer.

C) Short-ring a sale. A clerk deliberately fails to ring up one or more items and, when completing the sale, informs the customer of the “mistake.” The clerk then writes the
sell price of the omitted item(s) on the customer cash register receipt.

D) The intentional overage accumulated in this manner is later removed from the cash drawer.

E) Overcharge a customer, but ring up the actual price of the merchandise. The overage accumulated is later removed.

F) Outright theft from a common cash drawer used by more than one employee. (Pinpointing responsibility for the resultant loss is extremely difficult, particularly on single-drawer cash registers.)

G) Theft from another clerk’s cash drawer. This is frequently made possible by an employee’s failure to lock the register drawer and remove the key when the register is unattended.

H) Theft from own cash drawer by use of fictitious refund or over-ring slips. This is made possible by lax control on authority to validate a refund or over-ring.

I) Theft from another clerk’s cash drawer by use of a duplicate cash register key, e.g., the A or B drawer key of one register, or an entry code on a register may be memorized
and used in the operator’s absence.

J) Issue of a sales slip in lieu of cash register receipt for sale of a controlled item thereby intentionally failing to ring up the transaction and pocketing the sales amount.

K) Theft of total receipts rung-up on an extra or spare cash register put in use during peak sales periods without authorization or documentation.

L) Theft of merchandise and removal from premises by concealment on person, in handbag or parcel, during lunch/rest break, or at any time the opportunity exists.

M) Theft of clothing, by putting on the garments under work clothing. (This practice is most prevalent when employees are permitted to shop, unsupervised, prior to
opening hours.) Theft and immediate consumption of consumable merchandise.

N) Deliberate soiling or damaging of merchandise to obtain a markdown for the employee’s own or an accomplice’s benefit.

O) Deliberately discarding merchandise in the trash for later retrieval.

P) Bagging merchandise and having it removed from the premises by another employee, relative or customer accomplice. (Frequently discarded cash registers receipts
form bona fide sales transactions are stapled to bags containing stolen merchandise of
equivalent value). Paying a lesser amount than actual sales price for merchandise when permitted storing up sales for themselves, relatives, or close friends.

Q) In collusion with employees of other departments, undercharging each other for purchases. (This practice occurs more often when employee purchases are not properly controlled).

R) Putting false sales tickets on merchandise to reflect lower prices.

S) Hiding merchandise in backup stock areas, restrooms, corridors, trash containers or under counters for later theft.

T) In collusion with warehouse personnel, signing for more merchandise than actually received and splitting the profit or diverting the merchandise.

U) In collusion with vendors or carriers, signing for more merchandise than actually received in exchange for a gratuity.

V) Stealing merchandise received without invoice or shipping documents.

Shoplifting: "THEFT TALK" Home Page





THEFT TALK Online Services

Counseling for people who steal, i.e., shoplifting.

We also offer victim services and theft counselor training.

THEFT TALK Online Services specializes in counseling people who shoplift or steal. We counsel people who commit burglary, those who commit car theft, professional thieves, chronic theft offenders and people who have been caught shoplifting, or want help because they shoplift. THEFT TALK has been counseling theft offenders since 1983 and has found that if the offender is a shoplifter, stealing cars, or stealing even more directly from people, there are common thinking processes (errors) they go through. Our online services focus on the thinking of the theft offender.

If you would like to learn more about how we work with people who steal, you are encouraged to peruse the menu above If you are a professional who works with theft offenders/shoplifters/burglars, or people who have stolen cars you may be interested in our theft seminars , our THEFT TALKT Counselor Certification Program , Career Opportunities and/or our variety of training. programs. On the other hand, if you are a parent or teacher and shoplifting or other forms of theft or stealing are of interest, you might be interested in Articles Written by "THEFT TALK", Parent/Teacher Advice and our theft related Questions and Answers section. Either way please feel free to view all of the menu options outlined above.


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