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We often see shoplifting portrayed in the media as a “cheap thrill” or a means for teenagers to act out. But as a Denver lawyer who has handled plenty of shoplifting cases, I know that the root causes for this type of crime are rarely so clear cut.


Shoplifting is a much larger and more widespread problem than most people think – last year alone shoplifting all over the world cost retailers an estimated $112 billion. The interesting thing about shoplifting is that,for such a pervasive crime, there has been relatively little research into why people commit these crimes. We brush it aside when people steal small items from retailers because it seems relatively insignificant and impossible to catch everyone who does it.


However, if we paid closer attention to the reasons why people shoplift, we might be able to address some of the root issues that lead to this behavior and apply better preventative measures, rather than just prosecuting the shoplifters who get caught.


A Few Reasons People Might Shoplift


They feel our cultural disparity


Rachel Schteir, author of the book The Steal, argues that one of the reasons some people may shoplift is because they see the excesses of celebrities and the wealthy in our society and believe that anything they shoplift is minor compared to what our country’s elite have.


They feel entitled to it


Some people may rationalize shoplifting by telling themselves that the stores make so much money that it’s okay to take something for free. A person might also believe that because of certain setbacks in their lives, such as economic hardships or a divorce, they “deserve” to get something for free.


They have a mental illness


Although some people scoff it off as just an excuse for shoplifting, some people really do struggle with compulsive stealing. It’s possible to become addicted to an activity like shoplifting in the same way that you can become addicted to drugs or alcohol. In these cases, stealing acts as a coping mechanism to deal with unwanted thoughts and feelings. In addition to compulsion, some people may shoplift to cope with other mental disorders including depression and anxiety.


They experience a rush.


Getting through a risky situation, such as shoplifting, actually produces a chemical response. Successful shoplifters may feel a rush of adrenaline, which serves as a reward for their behavior.


They succumb to peer pressure


This is one of the biggest issues we hear about in cases involving teenage shoplifters. Most of the time, teens don’t shoplift out of aneed; they do it so that they can fit in with their friends. Teens have not completely developed their own personal identity yet, so the approval of their peers is particularly important at this age. Teens are also at a different stage of brain development than adults, meaning that they are much more likely to act on impulse than they would be if they were older.


This is just a small sampling of some of the reasons people might shoplift. Clearly, every case is unique, and as a defense lawyer I pay close attention to the details of each case when helping my clients decide what course to take. I believe that it’s truly important to understand the mechanism of shoplifting because,in most cases, shoplifters will respond more positively to help than to punishment.


About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state.  She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.

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