Do you remember being a teenager, shopping in a department store with your friends and being followed around by employees? Maybe you were accused of stealing or asked to leave.
This interaction is not uncommon, and has negative consequences for both customers and the store. Customers who are stereotyped as shoplifters are often discouraged from shopping at the store again – it’s not fun to be labeled as a criminal because of your age or appearance.
Moreover, the employees watching you may have been ignoring people who were actually committing a crime. The people a store thinks aren’t shoplifting are often the ones who cause the most retail damage.
The stereotypes regarding shoplifting – that it’s only committed by teenagers and lower-income shoppers – have been researched and shown to be completely false. So…
Who Actually Shoplifts?
A lot of people. Compared to other forms of theft, shoplifting is a fairly common crime. It is estimated that 1 in 11 Americans have shoplifted something from a store.
Often, people picture shoplifters as teenagers who want to cause trouble, or lower-income people who can’t afford the items that they steal. In reality, the majority of shoplifters are adults – 3 in 4 shoplifters are over the age of 18 – and many are quite well-off and don’t “need” to steal for financial reasons.
In fact, Americans earning $70,000 a year are 30% more likely to steal than those who earn $20,000 a year or less. At $70,000 a year, you can afford to put food on the table. So why shoplift?
Kleptomania and Depression
You may have heard the term “kleptos” used to describe someone who habitually steals in movies or TV. Kleptomania, however, is a legitimate disorder that has been diagnosed for centuries. It is traditionally classified as an impulse disorder, defined by the Mayo Clinic as the “recurrent failure to resist urges to steal items.”
Kleptomania is more common then you might think, but it’s complex. Many people are shamed by the crimes they commit due to having kleptomania. Because of this, they don’t seek proper help to deal with their condition. Kleptomania and shoplifting are commonly linked to other mental disorders or loss. Three out of four first-time shoplifters had recently experienced trauma.
Additionally, people who suffer from depression tend to shoplift around their birthdays or major holidays. It is reported that approximately one in three shoplifters experiences some form of depression.
Other mental disorders linked to shoplifting include:
- Anxiety Disorders
- Bipolar Disorder
- Substance Abuse
- Personality Disorders
- Gambling Disorders
What This Means for Your Defense
Not every shoplifter is a well-off adult who is depressed. Not every shoplifter is a teenager who was dared to steal by his or her friends. Not every shoplifter is a low-income individual. But even though the range of shoplifters is rather diverse, those who are charged or accused of shoplifting belong to certain stereotypes.
Many people are wrongfully accused each year of shoplifting due to their age, race, or social class. Other people are charged after accidentally shoplifting. Others are given harsh penalties for shoplifting when what they really need is rehabilitation or treatment for their actions.
Theft is no joke in Illinois. Unlike in many other states, merely getting caught with stealing over $300 in merchandise can result in a felony charge. If you have been charged with shoplifting and have a history of mental illness, it is important to speak with a knowledgeable retail theft attorney who can put you in contact with a mental health professional. Citing depression or kleptomania as a factor in your case may allow you to seek help instead of receiving a long sentence. And if you believe you have been wrongfully accused, it is important to communicate this to your lawyer as well.
For more options and strategies for an effective defense against shoplifting charges, be sure to consult with a Chicago retail theft attorney immediately.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, Murder, and drug crimes.