The cost of the five-fingered discount

Nov. 13, 2003, midnight | By Rocky Hadadi | 18 years, 6 months ago

Blazers who shoplift target big business, seeking and sneaking out freebies, but at a price

Where only first names have been used, names have been changed to protect the identities of the sources.

Junior Michelle's eyes shift back and forth, stealing a glance behind her. She shoves her hands deep into her pockets and walks nonchalantly to the back of the store, where the jewelry is on display. Reaching up, she grabs what interests her—a bracelet here, a ring there—and thrusts the items into her coat. Michelle has shoplifted before and does not see it as a big deal. For her and countless other Blazers, shoplifting is more of a hobby than a crime.

U.S. retailers lost $9.7 billion to shoplifters in 2002, according to the latest National Retail Security Survey. Although teenagers only make up 10 percent of the nation's population, they are credited with 38 percent of all shoplifting crimes. According to an informal Silver Chips survey of 100 students conducted on Oct 12, 74 percent of Blazers have shoplifted at least once as teenagers.

Rationalizing a crime

Junior Stasie says that an absence of pocket money was a main reason why she turned to shoplifting. "I shoplifted because I wanted some stuff, and I'm mainly broke 24/7," she says. "I'm always getting stuff just to experiment with."

A junior, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes that high prices are the main reason that she and other shoplifters validate their actions. "I feel that the stores make enough money as it is and are ripping you off, so it won't really affect them by taking a couple shirts," she says. Changing fads and trends also add to the teenage population's desire to shoplift, she explains. "Teens like having a lot of different clothes and styles, and instead of wasting their limited amount of money on them, they'll find the ‘easy' way out and steal."

For students with radical political ideologies, shoplifting is a way to act out against authority figures. "If you're stealing from a store, you're stealing from ‘The Man,'" senior Anthony says. "I think people of all different classes shoplift for the same reason: They like to get things for free. If these things were available at a reasonable price, maybe people wouldn't shoplift or pirate music." Anthony says he refrains from shoplifting at small companies. "I would never boost at a family-owned business, that's just dirty," he says.

For some Blazers, shoplifting needs no political ideology or financial predicament—a number of them do it just for fun. Michelle calls shoplifting an "adrenaline rush," or an easy way to avoid spending money. "I borrow make-up for my friends and myself," she says. "After we get home, we'll be like, ‘So, what did you get?' and we'll show each other what we bought and what we stole. Then we'll add up how much we saved."

Many teenage shoplifters underestimate exactly what they have gotten themselves into because they are caught in the excitement of the moment, says Michael Baker, head of security at Westfield's Wheaton Mall. "Most of the time, teenagers have the money in their pockets but are shoplifting for the thrill factor or peer pressure," he explains.

Companies and security strike back

Junior Veronica grimaces as she recalls the event that led to her exile from Hot Topic, a store in Montgomery Mall that specializes in alternative music and clothing. "My friend and I were in the store, and he had already taken a pair of shoes and some jewelry. As soon as we walked out, some employees followed us and threatened to report us to security. We were already outside of the store, so we just started running," she explains. "The next time I went back there, one of the workers told me that we were never allowed in [Hot Topic] ever again."

Hot Topic and other chain stores have strict policies against disclosing shoplifting information, says a Hot Topic employee who wishes to be unnamed. Enough shoplifters frequent the store, she explains, for the company to start losing money. However, she stresses that there are strict repercussions for those who are apprehended by store workers. "It's for real. If the cops get involved, it's not a joke," she says.

One of the most often hit stores at Westfield's Wheaton Mall is Icing by Claire's Accessories, says employee Malika Greenidge. Shoplifters are caught on a daily basis, Greenidge explains, and they are normally 14 to 18-year-old females. "Girls take small items, like earrings," she says. "It takes forever to put sensors on every little thing, but we have cameras, which do help us figure out who has been taking what."

Facing the consequences

The reasons for shoplifting differ between offenders, says Michael Baker, but the punishment for their crimes is the same. "There are a variety of reasons depending on each individual, but these teens rarely seem to comprehend the consequences of their actions," he says.

The teenagers are banned from the mall for a period of time, and if caught in the mall before that time has passed, they are permanently expelled, explains Michael Baker. More often than not, stores press for restitution from their teenage shoplifters, he says.

Shoplifting may seem like an easy way to get expensive items, but the repercussions outweigh the benefits, says Veronica. "The fact that I'm exiled from a store at the mall, it's not cool at all," she says. "Going through all the trouble to shoplift, just to get caught? It's not worth it."

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Rocky Hadadi. So, Rocky Hadadi has a very small life. She likes Baz Luhrmann. She likes Rancid. She wants to have John Frusciante's lovechild of guitar solos. Her interests include: meaningful friendships with CAP girls, exceptional Magnet amigos, track suits, aquamarine, Chucks, velvet Docs, painting random crap … More »

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