The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft & Spending

            April 2009 e-Newsletter



"It's Still The Economy, Stupid!"


Terrence Daryl Shulman


The economy is still the topic most on the minds of Americans and millions (if not billions) of others around the globe. The AIG and corporate bonus issue raised the populist rage several notches. Bernard Madoff plead guilty to multiple felony fraud charges and is facing 150 years in prison when he's sentenced in June. Emotions range from anxiety to cynicism to despair.

Somewhere, however, we must remain hopeful. As F.D.R. proclaimed: "The only thing to fear is fear itself." It ain't easy but we'll get through this. No matter what your income or station in life, in some sense we are all "in it together."

The good news--if there is any--is that this "bottoming out" is causing us to re-evaluate and readjust. The days of conspicuous consumption have come to a screech if not a complete halt. We are being forced to live within our means and find joy and gratitude in simpler things and experiences.

Something good can come of this.

Now, the balance point, individually and collectively, is to be more conscience and cautious about how we spend money without totally clamping down and refusing to spend anything. Money is energy. Money is blood. And if the energy and blood of our economy stops beating, well, this is already happening. President Obama is walking a fine line for sure. He has to present a message of solemnity, surveying the harsh realities of the economy and what got us here (in large part, too much spending and too much risk) while also providing a message of hope and encouragement to trust and spend again--but more wisely.

Each of us has likely cut out something from our budget (if we even had a budget) to help make ends meet. We are having quiet and open conversations about "want vs. need." Again, this is a good thing.

As the Chinese say in their language, "crisis" means both danger and opportunity. What opportunities does this financial crisis offer you?


HAPPY PASSOVER and EASTER. Spring is upon us and so, too, are two of our more observed holidays: Passover (April 8-9) and Holy Thursday/Good Friday/Easter (April 9-12). For many, these holidays are truly religious or spiritual events. For anyone, they can be invitations and opportunities to reflect on the universal themes of struggle and victory, death and rebirth/renewal, miracles and, of course, the importance of getting together with loved ones.

With the economy on our minds, these holidays may assist us in slowing down, going within, reaching out to others as well as reaching out for others. The holidays offer us a chance to think about what we are grateful for and while many of us may be suffering today, we can remember how our ancestors suffered in ways that are almost unimaginable.

So, how do you plan to observe the holidays? Their richness is there from which we may draw strength, hope, wisdom, and reconnection.


LAWSUIT UPDATE: At this point, we still have some work to do to get back to some agreement. This has been a frustrating and exhausting experience for me but I remain as committed as ever to fighting for my legal rights and to helping others who have problems with shoplifting and/or stealing to easily find me and the services and resources offered on my websites. I ask again for your positive thoughts and any form of support you feel called to give.


 I got two e-mails in the past few days which caused me to stop and let the impact of my efforts to help others sink in deeply. Last Wednesday, I had just come home from our local CASA support group meeting where we had spent two hours filming with the Canadian Broadcast Corporation for a documentary on shoplifting and stealing in Canada and abroad. I checked my email before turning in for the night and received a message from the adult son of a former client of mine-coincidentally, Canadian-who also had been a member of our local CASA group as well as our online support group. The message read as follows:

"Hi Terry... I have terrible news... my mom passed away recently... it was sudden (heart attack)... my kids and I saw her earlier in the day and there was no indication of any problems... and then I received a call from her in the middle of the night... I just want you to know that you helped change her life... the last couple of years she was at peace with herself... you must continue helping as many people as you can... you have a gift!"

This email reminded me how fleeting and fragile life is and how important recovery is. While her loss is grave, it would have been much moreso--for herself and her loved ones--had she still been active in her addiction when she passed. I know that feeling intimately as my father died 16 years ago on April 20, 1993 in a state, I believe, was anything other than at peace.

The second email I received was on March 30th. It was short and reads as follows:

"I am about to send for your book. I feel better already after reading the (testimonials) on your site; I understand a little bit better why people with our backgrounds steal. I would like to sincerely thank you for having the COURAGE to step out and offer all of us a helping hand out of the emotional and lethal quicksand of stealing. My heart feels a bit lighter and I know I am on the right path to my true life via your loving help. A little bit of the self-hatred has been slightly released already... Thank you again."

What greater gift can we give ourselves than to find our deepest meaning and purpose for living and then to live that meaning and purpose. It was largely due to my father's long-term alcoholism that I became interested in helping others. In his death, I saw the ultimate price one pays the disease of addiction. I knew I didn't want to meet that end from my own disease.


There was an interesting article in Newsweek magazine--posted online on March 12, 2009 by writer Wray Herbert.

New research attempts to shed light on why people cheat and why others can resist temptation. One of the interesting questions in the article was that if persons such as Bernard Madoff who already were wealthy and successful can lie, cheat, steal and commit fraud, what incentive is there for persons with much less money and advantage not to do so?

And with all these CEOs getting bonuses, "It's enough to make the average tax-paying citizen wonder whether anyone actually plays by the rules anymore."

The article asks: "So why do some people cheat and others don't? The classical explanation is that it's a rationalized choice, a cold calculation of cost and benefit. Can I get away with it, and how much can I get away with before I risk getting caught? But some scientist have begun questioning this cynical view of human ethics and suggest that the decision is much more complex than this simple calculation."

Some test experiments with groups were discussed in the article. Part of what was revealed was that if cheating was observed to have no consequences, that others were more inclined to cheat, too. But what was interesting was that if those cheating were members of a group not affiliated with ones own group, cheating decreased whereas if those cheating belonged to an affiliated group, cheating increased. So, it's not black and white based just on whether there are perceived consequences or not.

Also, in one experiment, a student asked the proctor directly: "Is it okay to cheat?" The proctor said "no." Cheating decreased when the question was brought to the forefront.

The article concluded: "So it appears our inner moralist doesn't really want to cheat. Yet it also appears dishonesty can be contagious--if we witness one of our own committing the public act of dishonesty. These findings point to a possible strategy for preventing a wave of unethical contagion. If cheating in general declines when cheaters are perceived as outlaws, then it should help to stigmatize public cheaters as just that--outlaws, bad apples. Of course, Bernie Madoff and the rest of Wall Street's alleged fraudsters have already done a lot of that work for us."

COMMENT: While I can see the logic in the argument that stigmatizing cheaters, liars, thieves, etc. as outlaws may reduce some people's temptations to engage in similar behaviors, I believe it's more complicated that this. First of all, the more cheating that is exposed the more many people begin to feel the world is an unfair and unruly place and that the only sane reaction is to "join the game." Also, as I've worked for nearly 15 years with people who steal (particularly shoplifting and employee theft), I have come to believe that "one size does not fit all." There is a difference between a common thief or someone who steals for greed/profit vs. someone who steals due to emotional/psychological issues or who is a kleptomaniac or compulsive shoplifter. I am not saying there should not be penalties or consequences but there should also be treatment. I have seen cases where people in need of treatment is belittled, stigmatized, yelled at by a judge, a prosecutor, even their own family or friends. It doesn't tend to help these people; quite the contrary, it pushes them further into shame and despair and almost certainly guarantees these people with strike or lash out again.

Ultimately, in order to act in a way that is accordance with the law, we must cultivate and call upon our own conscience. I've been reading a book that was recommended by a friend recently. It is called "The Sociopath Next Door" by Martha Stout, PhD. It asserts that roughly 4% of our population are sociopaths who, in essence, don't have a conscience about anything they do. They can be quite charming and walk in our midst. How they become this way is still somewhat of a mystery--part genetics, part early childhood abuse or trauma; in either event, they are hard, if not impossible, to change. Some are mildly annoying and some are dangerously lethal. Perhaps many more than 4% have "sociopathic tendencies."

The author also discussed the interesting point that sometimes it feels like a burden to have a conscience but also suggests it is what makes us human and that the benefits far outweigh the costs both in our individual and collective lives.


DO TOUGH ECONOMIC TIMES LEAD TO MORE STEALING OR LESS? Conventional wisdom and research indicates that during tough economic times, stealing increases--often dramatically--as persons struggle to make ends meet and morality takes a backseat to survival. In addition, the pure emotional upheaval people experience (especially due to loss and feelings of unfairness and powerlessness) nudge us toward behaviors we wouldn't normally engage in during more settled times.

A recent figure (quoted in last month's e-Newsletter) stated that U.S. crime stats reported a 40% increase in shoplifting and employee theft during the last two months of 2008. Preliminary figures from the first quarter of 2009--from retailers and police blotters--indicate a steady rise in crime rates, especially petty thefts.

Richard Hollinger, a professor of Ciminology at The University of Florida in Gainesville--a friend and colleague of mine--has been tracking this trend in his monthly column in Loss Prevention magazine. He states: "Based upon numerous research studies, an economic downturn is precisely the time that loss prevention managers need to be most vigilant for dishonesty. These declining conditions foster an atmosphere in which even those employees still working can be easily tempted into dishonesty. The reason is based upon the socio-psychological principles found in "equity theory." This theory posits that when inequitable situations arise, individuals take immediate action to restore equity in their lives.

"As I have written elsewhere, when retail sales associates feel unfairly treated and poorly compensated, they will take action to rectify the situation by working less productively, quitting, or stealing from the workplace. In the current economic environment, neither working less or quitting are really viable options. People who still have jobs need to preserve their employment, and moreover, need every hour of paid work that they can achieve. However, when they believve that the inevitable "pink slip" is just around the corner, they will often anticipate the loss of their jobs and attempt to steal as much as they can before being laid off. I would like to call this phenomenon "anticipatory employee theft and dishonesty."

COMMENT: Imagine my surprise when on Friday March 27, 2009 I read a lead article in The Detroit Free Press entitled: "Fewer Sticky Fingers... Petty thefts are on the decline in metro area." The overall drop was reported at about 10% from September 2008 through February 2009 compared with the same period the year before. Now, assuming this is true, that's pretty great and unexpected news. I do have my suspicions, however, that the figures may mislead the public to think that people are becoming more honest during tough times and that we may be lulled into a false sense of security. Also, the article didn't attempt to state any theories about why the crime rate had surprisingly dropped.

I wrote the following response to the editors of the paper the day the article ran; however, to this date it has not been published: 

I was encouraged to read the article in about the current decrease in petty thefts (notably, property thefts and retail fraud/shoplifting) in the Metro-Detroit area. In fact, a recent U.S. study--based on police reports and retailers reports--indicated that theft crimes such as shoplifting and employee theft had increased 40% over the last two months of 2008 and this, as your article explains, was related to the downturn economy. From what I've been reading and hearing, first quarter national stats should also reflect an increase in theft crimes. Because our region has been hit harder than most, perhaps some possible exlpanations for the drop in local theft can be attributed to more store and business closings (fewer places to steal from); more people avoiding stores (less discretionary income and less temptation to steal once in stores); shifting trends in organized crime rings; increased local law enforcement; and increased diligence among the public (watching purses, locking car and home doors, etc.).

In any event, stealing is still a major problem in the Metro-Detroit area and across teh country and research still shows that people tend to cross ethical lines more when under financial stress, not to mention the pure emotional response either: when people suffer loss, anger, and increased feelings of helplessness and lack of hope, it may become all too easy to justify stealing as a "fair" response to an "unfair" world. I hope your article doesn't lull people into a false sense of security. We need to be on guard for theft--whether we're the victims or the potential perpetrators.








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Here's the Scoop!


Mr. Shulman was either quoted or featured in the following media:

March 2nd--Featured in a article on compulsive shopping/spending.

March 9th--Featured in an article on employee theft in the Business News (

March 19th--Featured in The Detroit Jewish News on compulsive shopping & spending.

March 19th--Featured in a People Magazine article on compulsive shopping & spending.

March 24th/25th--Interviewed by The Canadian Broadcast Corp. (CBC) which sent a crew to the Detroit area also to film our local CASA support group for a story about shoplifting and stealing in Canada.

March 30th--Presented a public talk at The Franklin, Michigan Public Library on his book "Bought Out and $pent!" and on the economy and compulsive shopping/spending.

March: Interviewed and consulted on a major motion picture in production which highlights a young female teenager who is a compulsive shoplifter/klepomaniac.

March: Interviewed about employee theft for Clement Communications "Supervisor's Guide to Employment Practices."

March: Interviewed about employee theft for an article in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper.

April 5th--Mr. Shulman will present at The Southfield (Michigan) Public Library's bi-annual Local Authors Book Fair to promote and speak about his recent book "Bought Out and $pent!"

April 15-16th--Will present on compulsive shopping & spending at the National Association of Social Workers--Michigan chapter annual conference in Lansing, MI.

April 22-24th--Will present on compulsive shopping & spending at the  Foundations in Recovery Process Addictions conference in Las Vegas, NV.


Spring '09: Mr. Shulman will be featured in a German magazine article about the increase in compulsive shopping & spending globally.

Spring '09: Mr. Shulman wrote an article on compulsive theft and spending for the spring edition of Annals Magazine for The American Psychotherapy Association.

October 7-9th--Mr. Shulman has been invited to present on compulsive shopping/spending at The Addiction Medicine State of The Art Conference in San Francisco, CA.

Mr. Shulman will be creating a series of online continuing education courses on compulsive theft and spending based on his books and Power Point presentations through the American Psychotherapy Association. These courses are available for purchase by APA members and non-members alike.

CW Network is producing a documentary about teens and compulsive shopping.

Mr. Shulman will be featured in a segment on shoplifting addiction in the MSNBC series "Theft in America" to air in early 2009.

Mr. Shulman continues to assist on two U.K. projects on shoplifting addiction--one with the BBC and another with Channel 4.

Mr. Shulman was interviewed for an article on compulsive shopping and spending in Glamour magazine--article to be published this Spring.

Mr. Shulman will be submitting a chapter on employee theft in a 2009 compilation book entitled "Risky Business."

Mr. Shulman continues to
assist the Kingman, Arizona court system with his court-ordered homestudy program for retail fraud offenders. The program is based on material in his book "Something for Nothing: Shoplifting Addiction and Recovery" (2003).

Mr. Shulman is in the process of creating homestudy courses for continuing education credit for The American Psychotherapy Association based on his three books on shoplifting, employee theft, and compulsive shopping & spending.

Mr. Shulman is working with A & E TV's "Intervention" show on a shoplifting addiction segment.


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Contact The Shulman Center

Terrence Shulman
P.O. Box 250008
Franklin, Michigan 48025


Call (248) 358-8508 for free consulation!

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Related Sites by Terrence Shulman:

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Products for Purchase--SALE!

Mr. Shulman's 75 Minute DVD Power Point Presentation on Employee Theft at Livonia, Michigan Financial Manager's Conference 10/19/06. $75.00

Mr. Shulman's 75 Minute DVD Power Point Presentation on Employee Theft at Louisville, Kentucky Business in Industry Conference 9/19/07. $75.00

Mr. Shulman's two books "Something for Nothing: Shoplifting Addiction & Recovery" and "Biting The Hand That Feeds: The Employee Theft Epidemic... New Perspectives, New Solutions" are availabe for $25.00 each (includes shipping/handling) or both for $45.00 (includes shipping/handling).

Mr. Shulman's 90 minute DVD Power Point presentation for young people: "Theft and Dishonesty Awareness Program." $75.00

Mr. Shulman's 33 minute psycho-educational DVD: "The Disease of Something for Nothing: Shoplifting and Employee Theft." $50.00

First International Conference on Theft Addictions & Disorders 4 DVD set (13 Hours). Recorded 10/05. $125.00.

Second International Conference on Compulsive Theft & Spending 2 DVD set (6 Hours). Recorded 9/08. $100.00.


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