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What is a Shoplifter?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A shoplifter is someone who steals money or goods from a store while it is open. The economic impact of shoplifting is debatable, with some industries claiming that shoplifting results in a large loss of profit, while others simply find it a nuisance. As a general rule, penalties for shoplifting include replacement of the stolen item, and sometimes the shoplifter may be forced to do community service or pay a fine. He or she will typically not be allowed into the store again either.

Shoplifting is a pretty old problem for merchants: the word itself dates to the late 1600s. There are a wide variety of reasons to shoplift, ranging from extreme poverty and an urgent need for a particular item to boredom, and shoplifting techniques are quite varied as well. In some industries, shoplifting problems are compounded by employee theft, which can make it hard to tell who is taking merchandise, and when.

Shoplifters employ such a wide range of styles that staff in stores must keep their eyes open for potentially suspicious behavior. While amateurs tend to wear baggy clothes and move erratically in the store as they steal, some professional shoplifters who shoplift to make a living are very slick, and they may dress and act like normal customers, making it hard to pin them down in the store. Pros may also work with accomplices, with one distracting clerks while the other steals. A shoplifter may also take advantage of unattended bags and purses belonging to other customers.

Many stores have measures in place to prevent or discourage a shoplifter from getting any ideas, including things like cameras, armed guards, security tags in the merchandise, and faux shoppers, security officers who pretend to shop while looking out for shoplifters. Depending on the store policy, a shoplifter may be discreetly encountered on the shop floor, or allowed to leave with the merchandise before being apprehended, so that the store can ensure an arrest.

You may also hear shoplifting referred to as getting a five finger discount, jacking, nicking, or boosting. Many shoplifters enjoy the thrill of the experience, and the sense of satisfaction which comes from stealing items from a store right under the nose of the employees. For this reason, shoplifting is often common among troubled teens and children, who may turn to shoplifting small items for kicks. However, shoplifting is often harmful for legitimate customers of the store, as it is often used as an excuse for raising prices, and employees may suffer as well, as some employers penalize staff when shoplifting occurs on their watch.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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