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Shoplifting - Theft from Retail Stores

CCTV is a major success in preventing and detecting shoplifting. Shoplifting is the slang term for stealing from a shop. Shoplifting is THEFT, a serious indictable offence in UK law, with a maximum prison sentence of 7 years. Shoplifting is not a victimless crime. Shoplifters are often substance abusers stealing to sell, trying to secure their next "fix".

Offenders are often abusive or violent to retail staff. Retailers cannot afford loss by theft, and a high theft problem may put store staff at risk of redundancy. Preventing Shoplifting is therefore high on many shop employees' minds.

There is no officially defined offence of "Shoplifting" in the UK. In clear and simple terms Shoplifting is THEFT. Theft is a serious, indictable offence.

Theft is an offence in law under the Theft Act 1968, which defines theft :-

"A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it."

One UK retailer has resorted to radical measures to identify those people stealing from it's stores. TJ Morris publishes CCTV images of offenders online, and offers a 500 reward for information leading to conviction.

Popular press comment questions the legality of this move, but the images remain online :- http://www.tjmorris.co.uk/crimebusters.html


The main types of Shop Theft

Non-professional Shoplifter

- Opportunists

Many shoplifters (thieves) are not regular thieves, but are influenced by opportunities such as unstaffed areas with no CCTV, easily accessible display areas, and unprotected stock. These shoplifters steal a small percentage of the total of stolen merchandise, but often get caught. Store Detectives and shop staff easily detect the behaviorial clues, which ultimately lead to the shoplifter's arrest.

- Persistent thieves

Many thieves steal regularly - every day or every week perhaps. They sometimes mix genuine purchases with some stolen goods. Retained CCTV sometimes means these people get a nasty surprise when their finally caught. Often there's no on the spot caution or fixed penalty for them, it's a house search by the police, then the full weight of the law in court.

- Juveniles

Young people can be influenced by peer pressure to steal. This can be part of a 'group syndrome' where young people only steal when they are together. They tend to steal such items as electronic games, CDs and fashion goods. Shoplifting is often the start of the slippery slope of more serious offences. So many young people do not think of how this will affect them in the future.

- Thieves who use children

There are family shoplifting teams use children to steal in an attempt to avoid convictions or to cause distractions that may conceal the theft. New sentencing guidelines address this well. People who use children in crime now get what they deserve.

- Mentally disturbed

A very small group of people have a mental disorder which compels them to steal. Sometimes goods are taken which are of no value to the thief (such as single shoes), and when caught, they are often found to have large quantities of such goods hoarded at home. This condition may be called "kleptomania". Very few people suffer from this rare condition.

- Substance abusers

Many shoplifters steal to support their habit, which can cost hundreds of pounds a week. They treat shop theft as the easiest way to raise money. Sometimes they present real danger to shop staff, and can be very aggresive.

- Steaming

This is a technique where a large gang will enter a shop and intimidate, threaten or distract staff in order to steal large quantities of goods before running off. It is dangerous to tackle these people as they are likely to resort to violence. Steaming is very rare, and often leads to robbery charges being brought, as the threat of violence before the theft is displayed.

- Staff collusion

Sometimes shop staff help thieves to steal, either actively, or by turning a blind eye to what is going on. Thieves may pay the member of staff to co-operate with them, or they may intimidate them into doing so. Many retailers operate a whistle blowing hotline backed by rewards to help prevent this.

- Professionals

Professional thieves target high value goods, and often steal a great many items eg entire racks of clothes at one time. They often work in teams passing the goods through several pairs of hands before they are eventually taken away. Some gangs also employ 'minders' to protect them. Whilst fewer in number, these so called "professionals" may be responsible for 80% of losses. They often target specific chains, particularly those without undercover store detectives.

The recent case of the Handbag Shoplifter who stole over 80,000 worth of goods to sell on Ebay is a good example of a typical professional shoplitfer.

The best loss prevention and security professionals can tell you accurately, where the high theft areas are located, what product-lines are targeted by shoplifters, on what days of the week, the most active times of day, and who is committing the crime.

80% of shoplifting losses are caused by just 20% of the thieves. These are the so called "professional" shoplifting gangs engaged in what is now termed as Organised Retail Crime (ORC).


Only 20% of losses are caused by amateur shoplifters, but they represent a large volume of people, and some retailers could better deal with low value by training staff to deter shoplifting, and by the use of high profile uniformed guarding. ORC gangs benefit from LP staff focussing on the easiest and lowest value shoplifter cases. An effective Loss Prevention strategy against shoplifting involves regular staff and management training, deployment of Loss Prevention Investigators or Store Detectives, using Uniform Guards to protect people and deter theft in high risk locations, combined with efficient use of CCTV, EAS tagging and product protection measures.