The term “shoplifting” brings to mind images of Winona Ryder, angst-filled teenagers acting out for attention, and grubby kids sneaking candy into their pockets. But retail theft is more common than many of us realize; there are even organized shoplifting rings that nick millions of dollars worth of products. The crime of shoplifting costs U.S. stores $13 billion a year, which often causes the retailers to hike up prices to cover the loss. If some of the items at your local store seem a little expensive, keep your eye on shifty characters around these nine products that shoplifters most frequently target.
Where’s the beef? That’s what many retailers are left wondering after a shoplifter hits. In the past several years, meat has often emerged as the top item stolen from stores, as regular shoppers and kleptomaniacs alike feel the urge to slide a steak into their coat pocket. Most meat thieves go for the higher end products, such as filet mignon or lamb chops, and anti-theft experts have started hiding security tags under the price label or in the pad that soaks up the meat juice. All they really need to do though, is keep an eye out for the shopper who is being followed by a pack of drooling dogs.
The sharpest criminals seem to be taking razors from stores, probably because they are easy to hide and have a high resale value. And Gillette apparently is the best a thief can get. The Mach products from Gillette are always among the most taken razors since they are relatively pricey and high in demand. Americans aren’t alone in this trend; razors have ranked among the top shoplifted items in the world since at least 2003. Only men’s razors seem to be targeted, though, so we hope that doesn’t mean women are starting to skip shaving altogether.
When you consider the fact that it costs more than $10,000 each year to take care of a child, it’s really not surprising that there’s a market for discounted infant formula. Formula normally costs $25 or more and babies can go through eight or ten cans a month. The financial strain of that, plus everything else tiny people need, can lead some desperate parents to swipe the formula from the store or buy it from less-than-legitimate sources who probably stole it off the shelf. The powdered formula is also used in the drug world to weaken the strength of cocaine or heroin.
Apparently many thieves are worried about getting wrinkles. One of the top beauty products being shoplifted is Oil of Olay’s Regenerist anti-aging line. Maybe the stress of stealing is starting to show on their faces. The Oil of Olay product is only one of many cosmetic items that is frequently taken. Since mascara and lipstick are made small enough for women to carry in their purses, they are also easy to hide from store employees and security guards. Most thieves go for the more expensive make-up or hair care brands to either use or sell, causing cosmetics brands to lose as much as 2% of sales to shoplifting.
When kids enter their rebellious phase, shoplifting alcohol is like the Holy Grail of misbehavior. Not only are they stealing, which they were undoubtedly taught not to do, but they’re taking something they’re forbidden from having. Because of teenagers and people who may not be able to afford their booze habit, alcohol is one of the things most often stolen from stores. People who are already drunk often go for lower-end brands, but the power names in alcohol, like Grey Goose vodka and Hennessy Cognac, and trendy beverages, such as Mike’s Hard Lemonade, often fly off the shelves into sticky fingers if not locked up.
Many stores that sell lots of electronic gadgets have loss protection workers at the door who look like guards or bouncers. Their job is to check the receipts of people who have purchased big-ticket items (and probably anyone who looks shady) in order to cut down on the number of thefts. But even with their intimidating muscles, these employees haven’t been able to stop the theft of laptops, which are one of the most frequently stolen technology items. The FBI’s National Crime Information Center found that more than 100,000 laptops have been stolen annually in recent years. When you consider the price each laptop could fetch, those shoplifters no doubt made a tidy profit.
Drugs from drug stores used to be stolen a lot more frequently when those containing pseudoephedrine were available over the counter, convenient for people who want to make meth without raising suspicion. While the theft of over-the-counter medicine has dropped some, these drugs are still among the most likely products to be swiped. Headache medicine, Preparation H, and heartburn tablets are some of the most popular because they can be sold easily on the gray market. Other items like pregnancy tests and weight-loss pills are often stolen because people are embarrassed to purchase them.
The problem with devices that are marketed as being portable (and awesome) is that they are also easy for crooks to carry off. For the average shopper, the idea of taking a smartphone without having the store employees completely set it up and transfer all your contacts for you seems ridiculous. How are you going to get it to work? But for the tech-savvy shoplifter, taking a smartphone and jail-breaking it to make it useable can be an extremely profitable action. That’s why most retailers that sell smartphones keep them tethered to the display and lock away the ones available for purchase. And the really smart stores look into GPS applications that could allow them to track stolen phones.
We’ve all walked out of the store with one of those bulky and impossible-to-remove security tags on an item of clothing we just bought. While it’s an inconvenience to go back in to have the tag removed, the retailer is just trying to protect one of its easily snatched goods. Since stores are required to provide a certain level of privacy when people are trying on clothes, thieves are given a space where they can go to hide items. Many shoplifters will wear baggy clothing so that they can hide the stolen clothing inside it or simply put it on under what they were wearing. This is especially easy in stores without pesky fitting room attendants making sure you don’t take more than six items in the room at a time.