The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft & Spending

             July 2008 e-Newsletter

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Fall 2008 Conference on Compulsive Theft & Spending takes place Saturday September 27, 2008 in Detroit! Super Early Bird Discount--register by July 1st! Space is limited! See or any of our websites for information and registration. Also, Mr. Shulman's new book Bought Out and $pent! Recovery from Compulsive $hopping and $pending available now! Purchase through Mr. Shulman or through our websites.

Happy Fourth of July!



Please take a moment to read the following article which recently was published in USA Today and likely was syndicated in newspapers across the country.

Need and greed driving up theft, cops and retailers say


One morning last month, the manager of a Stop & Shop in Methuen, Mass., noticed a man with a young daughter leave the store without paying for several bags of shrimp. When police arrived, they found something else on him, too: 20 cans of baby formula.

Call it a sign of the times. Shoplifting seems to be rising at many retail chains, and experts are pointing to the economy as a prime cause.

"Wages aren't keeping up with inflation -- especially the price of food and energy," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial. "It just leaves less money for everything else, and that breeds a lot of temptation."

Retail and law enforcement experts said they've seen an increase in store theft -- and not only from customers.

"It's clear that both employee theft and shoplifting are up," said Richard Hollinger, professor of criminology at the University of Florida who compiles the annual National Retail Security Survey. "A lot of people are on the financial edge."

When 116 retailers were surveyed recently about shoplifting, 74% said they believed that shoplifting incidents last year had risen from 2006, according to the National Retail Federation. And when a smaller group of retailers was asked about shoplifting so far this year, nearly all said it was continuing to rise, said Joe LaRocca, vice president of loss prevention at the National Retail Federation. They also said the economy had been a contributing factor.

All told, retail theft is estimated to cost about $40.5 billion a year. And those who don't shoplift end up paying for it: Stores pass on much of their loss in the form of higher prices.

"Retailers can't afford to just eat that loss," Hollinger said. "Their margins aren't large enough. So this hits right on the bottom line."

Here are some other reasons the sluggish economy is thought to be contributing to the increase in shoplifting:

Rising prices and debt. "Unfortunately, it's to be expected that when the economy moves into a slowdown, and families have difficulties meeting week-to-week and month-to-month bills, shoplifting is going to go up," said Bruce Hutchinson, professor of economics at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Most police departments don't collect data on the profiles of shoplifting suspects. But some who deal directly with the problem have detected a shift.

"The shoplifter of the past was mostly trying to fuel a drug habit," said Sgt. Alfred Pratt of the police department for Shrewsbury, Mass. "But we've seen a change as the economy has declined. More common, everyday items are being stolen, such as groceries."

Samyah Jubran, an assistant district attorney general in Knoxville, Tenn., also said she has seen more food theft.

Fewer store clerks. Stores are looking to trim costs. One easy way is to reduce the number of sales clerks on the floor. With fewer employees greeting people at the door and watching shoppers walk the aisles, it's easier for shoplifters to grab and stash merchandise.

If stores "don't have a lot of people on duty in the store, particularly in these big-box stores," Hollinger noted, "it leaves what are called dead zones. That's where shoppers can stuff things up their shirts or in their pocketbooks, take off the tags and do all sorts of things."

Job turnover. Whether it's sales associates or store managers, turnover is a leading predictor of employee theft, Hollinger said. In 2006, retailers estimated that employee theft had caused 47% of their company losses, according to his most recent National Retail Security Survey. Hollinger's survey found that employees accounted for nearly half the total cost of retail theft.

Many employees who are caught are dismissed and made to pay restitution, but are not prosecuted, Hollinger said.

• Rise in organized retail crime. The economic slowdown has led many shoppers to seek deeply discounted products through the Internet, said Paul Jones of the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

Exploiting the opportunity, criminal teams are zeroing in on retail products and selling them cheaply, authorities said. "It's become more lucrative for them," Jones said.

Gangs of professional thieves account for $15 billion to $30 billion in retail losses every year, the FBI and the retail federation estimated in 2005. This year, 85% of retailers said they thought they'd been victims of criminal enterprises in the past 12 months, according to a survey the retail federation released this month.

The Internet has made it much easier for thieves to sell more stolen items, because "they used to have to sell at a garage sale or flea market or through a fence, and those were generally local," said Mike Keenan, director of loss prevention at Mervyns department stores. Now, he noted, it's easier to use the Internet to unload products across the world.

Many people are willing to grab those deals, even if they suspect they might be buying stolen goods.

"Consumers are looking for a big bang for their buck," said Swonk, the economist at Mesirow Financial. "If it's stolen goods, they're going to get it at a better price than at the retailer. It's creating another market."


I am encouraged any time I see an article sounding the alarm about shoplifting or employee theft. This article makes sense on a basic level: when the economy hiccups, many people have less money to buy essentials. But what the article fails to do, in my opinion, is more broadly address the scope of shoplifting and employee theft; instead, it seems to reduce people who steal into two main camps: those who steal out of greed and those who steal out of economic need. This is inaccurate. If 1 out of 11 people shoplift (according to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention) and if 75% of employees steal from work (according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) it's safe to say that why people steal is more complex than we think.

First of all, I'd like to say that there's rarely an excuse for stealing. When times are tough, there's usually got to be other ways to make ends meet. Unfortunately, desperate times often bring out desperate behavior. We don't think our clearest under stress. That's not an excuse, it's just being realistic. We have to be careful to distinguish between "need to steal" and "perceived need to steal." It may be one thing to shoplift "life-saving medicine" or basic staple food; it's quite another to steal "discretionary" items which one has become accustomed to having but can no longer realistically afford. For many, keeping up with the Joneses is a full-time job!

But the biggest missing piece in this article is the total absence of mention that statistics and research show that most people shoplift or commit employee theft not out of economic need or greed but in response to life's stressors. In other words, "it's emotions, stupid!" Now, certainly a faltering economy brings up a multitude of strong emotions for many: fear, depression, anger, hopelessness, shock--just to name a few. It's an important distinction to make but is often missed: it's not the lack of money that makes someone steal--maybe not even the perceived lack of money--but, rather, it's the thoughts and feelings behind the circumstances which make certain people more vulnerable to "act out."

Further, there's no mention of how shoplifting, employee theft and stealing in general can become addictive responses to life's stressors (including financial) and that, again, an increase in theft behaviors may be more attributable to strong emotional responses and perceived lack of choices that a drop in income, an increase in bills, or the economy's overall health. Research shows that all addictions increase during tough economic times: drinking, drugging, gambling, eating, shopping, sex, TV, work, Internet--you name 'em.

The article also perpetuates the myth of the typical shoplifter when the Massachusetts sergeant states "the shoplifter of the past was mostly trying to fuel a drug habit." My best estimation is that only 10-20% of shoplifters are drug addicts who steal to support their habit. The same is true for employees who steal from work.

When the economy falters, a cascade of events happen: more stress, more illness, more divorce, more death, loss of home, loss of lifestyle, loss of security, loss of identity, resurfacing of painful past memories or loss, and the traumatic loss of a sense or basic protection and fairness in life. When an employee knows he or she is about to lose a job after years of faithful service--sure, loss of income is on one's mind, but even greater feelings of betrayal and loss of control may be the primary motivation for stealing. When the typical shoplifter steals a nice purse or a blouse or a CD or DVD, those aren't necessity items per se but often the shoplifter can feel "entitled" to shoplift in the face of life's losses and injustices.

Again, this is not to excuse stealing but, rather, to better and more accurately understand it. It's also important to understand why people steal so we might better prevent or treat it. We still rarely even use the word "treat" when dealing with theft. There are either "plain thieves" who, assumedly, deserve harsh punishment, or "the impoverished or financially strapped" who may garner some sympathy but then what? Obviously, if we have a stronger economy, more job security, better benefits, lower cost of goods, and a more tightly-woven safety net, there would be less need to steal--real or perceived--not just because of finances but because of emotions. We would feel more at ease, more connected, more supported. When we feel all alone, the law of the jungle reigns: everyone for himself.

It is important for each of us to remember if or when times are tough that there are always other ways to survive besides stealing. Sometimes, drastic measures are the only way out such as letting a home fall into foreclosure, going without health insurance, selling prized possessions, or greatly downscaling or lifestyles. We may also have to ask for help--despite our pride--from family, friends, governmental agencies, religious institutions, charities, or elsewhere. We may have to put on our thinking caps and find new and creative (and legal!) ways to earn income.

Do stores and employers have any role to play in all this besides cat and cop? Most reasonable persons could agree how short-sighted most corporations have been about overpaying their executives compared to their core staff or how nickel-and-diming employees out of raises, bonuses and benefit actually breeds resentment and theft. And what about the hypocrisy of the few at the top who skim and steal (The American Society of Employers estimates that 55% of employee theft is perpetrated my company owners, managers, and supervisors). It appears many stores treat the war on shoplifting like the war on drugs--and it's unwinnable. Rarely does a retailer or loss prevention worker wish to acknowledge that most shoplifting--any shoplifting--is other than plain thievery less they appear "soft on theft." Of course, most retailers and loss prevention personnel are focused on organized theft rings and most other theft is falling through the cracks.

When we get real about why people steal--aside from economic need and greed--we will see more progressive approaches, including treatment, to the growing problem of theft. For example, casinos acknowledge--to varying degrees--that a proportion of their clients are compulsive gamblers. Casinos post the Gamblers Anonymous hotline and chip in funds to assist with free counseling for those afflicted. Many casinos even have "self-exclusion" programs which allow gamblers to "ban themselves" by tagging their IDs if they try to re-enter. Could this be the future with retailers? Further, bartenders are trained to cut off problem drinkers. And in response to the growing problem of obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease, even many fast food restaurants stepped up to the plate and cut trans-fat use, eliminated "super-size" menu items, and increased "heart-smart" choices.

Things are not just black and white. Theft in America is rising for many complex and inter-related reasons. The sooner we take note, the quicker we can take actions that actually can help turn our economy around.

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Fall 2008 Conference on Compulsive Theft & Spending takes place Saturday September 27, 2008 in Detroit! See our website for info and registration. Also, Mr. Shulman's new book Bought Out and $pent! Recovery from Compulsive $hopping and $pending available now and may be purchased through Mr. Shulman directly or through any of our websites.


Mr. Shulman continues to assist with a documentary on American excess called "American Dream: The Movie"

Mr. Shulman will be featured in a 2009 book on recovery in the USA called "America Anonymous" by Benoit-Denizen Lewis.

Mr. Shulman is working with MSNBC on a series on addiction--including shoplifting addiction to be aired in September 2008.

May 27th--Mr. Shulman co-presented a local free lecture and discussion on "Affluenza and Super-Consumerism" with Professor Michael Whitty in Royal Oak, Michigan.

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

June 21st--Mr. Shulman co-presented again with Professor Michael Whitty on "Affluenza and Super-Consumerism" in Detroit, Michigan.

June 29th--Mr. Shulman was featured in an article in The Washington Post by Nancy Trejos on cosumer credit card debt and compulsive shopping/spending.


Mr. Shulman is working with CNN on a story about how the faltering economy has led to more people shoplifting out of basic need and necessity.



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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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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


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