Shoplifting Past and Present

Today, shoplifting is far from being what people often joke about as being a petty “five-finger” act. This crime has now developed into a $30 billion industry.

As for the severity of this crime, take a look at Hayes International’s 26th Annual Retail Theft Survey. These latest statistics show that a total of 1,180,720 shoplifters were apprehended in 2013 by just 23 large retailers who recovered over $144 million from these thieves. Consider that these one million plus thieves were only the ones that got caught.

Shoplifters are everywhere, and if you think your store is not a target, you are likely wrong! Today, a huge number of thieves committing these acts are teams of organized crime professionals, and one of their most favorite and often used techniques is diversion; one thief will keep the salesperson distracted while others stuff items into purses and “booster” bags. Theses bags often lined with foil to keep anti-theft tags from setting off alarms.

Have you ever given thought to where these tactics actually stemmed from? Well, would you believe that these “state-of-the-art” techniques go way, . . . way back—to the early 1700s or before?

No wonder the “art” of shoplifting, with a few tweaks—here and there—has improved so very much over the years, that you might even say that practice makes perfect! Even in the early 1700s in England, shoplifters were hard at work sharpening their skills of thievery.

In tracing the past history of shoplifting for a book I am preparing to write, we found historical writings published in 1735, indicating the use of “diversion” by an associate thief along with booster devices were rapidly becoming “tricks of the trade”.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: Mary Robinson and Jenny Holmes, may well have been the first shoplifters to be criminally convicted of using a “booster device”. Mary and Jenny were both convicted for stealing a silver cup along with an eighty yards roll of Mantua silk on the 24th of December, 1726.

Evidence showed that the two women had a contrivance under their petticoats, not unlike two large hooks, upon which they laid a whole roll of silk, and so conveyed it away at once, while one of their confederates amused the people of the shop in some manner or until they got out of reach.

Jenny Holmes was sentenced to death for shop lifting. At the time of her execution, she was about thirty-four years of age. Mary Robinson, at the age of 70 years was also put to death for the crime of shop lifting.

For those interested, the above cases and others can be found in the book, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals, published in 1927.

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While many things have changed since the 1700s until today, one anti-theft strategy that has survived the ages and remains a most positive theft prevention tool is, good old customer service! Thieves hate attention, give them plenty of it! $

This entry was posted in Articles, Honesty, inventory shrinkage, Shoplifting, Shoplifting Statistics, theft, Theft Prevention and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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