July 1, 2022

Security Guard HUB

Detect, Deter, Observe, and Report

Why Do People Steal?

5 min read
no chase policy

People steal for multiple reasons, and need is only one of them. Let’s look at some of the reasons people steal, and a few tips on how you can prevent theft.

People Steal Because of Need

Let’s start with the most obvious one. People steal because of need, or at the very least, they steal because they “feel deprived” of something. That something can be an easily-consumed item, like food or baby diapers. It can also be something needed on the spur of the moment, like medicine or clean water. However, just the phrase “beg, borrow, or steal” shows the escalation that needs to happen before people turn to stealing in times of need. 

People Steal Because of Entitlement

Entitlement is the “right to receive something or to do something.” Entitlement means that people feel they have the “right” to something, or at least a “justification” for doing something. The high prices of medicine and diapers, for example, “justify” stealing the items instead. 

According to an article by the National Post, which looks at why even the wealthy would steal from high-end restaurants, the price of the meal might also feel like justification. Because they paid a high price for the meal, it should not be a problem that they walk off with the silverware. The same goes with items from hotel rooms–most hotels are already aware that anything not locked down can be carried away.

People Steal for Revenge or Personal Satisfaction

In this case, the people stealing are under no illusions of “right” or “justification.” They know that stealing is wrong, but they choose to do it anyway. One example of this is feeling unfairly treated by a company, and stealing a printer out of revenge (obviously not too realistic, but you get the picture). 

Another could be in the house or office of a wealthy person, where the thief decides that they will either 1) steal an item the person would never notice, or 2) make the person miss an item, despite all they already have. That kind of person is more interested in one-upping a person or a social class than in the morals of the situation. 

People Steal for the Thrill

In a Psychology Today article called “Men of Steal,” it describes people who steal purely for the thrill of the experience. There is no need, justification, or desire for revenge. It is not personal in any way. Rather, it is something that gives them a rush of excitement and the sense of something different happening. 

People Steal Due to Kleptomania

The word “kleptomania” is casually used to describe those who chronically steal items, but it is actually a clinical term–it needs to be formally diagnosed. Kleptomania is an “impulse control disorder.” As the name suggests, the people formally diagnosed with kleptomania fail to control their impulse to take something that is not theirs. It often goes with other conditions, like depression or other disorders, and should be treated as a disorder. 

What Can We Do About It?

There are so many reasons people steal, and not all of them are as simple as “need” or “thrill.” Now, let’s look at some of the ways security personnel can lessen stealing of all kinds (adapted from tips of the Loss Prevention Research Council). 

Smile and Greet Customers

Let customers know they are noticed. From a PR perspective, it always makes your company look good when the security personnel are friendly. From a security perspective, anyone contemplating theft will know they were seen. It reduces their level of comfort, and adds to their uneasiness and projection of guiltiness, even if they haven’t done anything yet. What use is a theft if the security guard can pick them out of a line-up?

Be Open About Shoplifting Facts

Some stores may find it rude to mention shoplifting in any way, even in signs. Ordinary customers might feel watched or unjustly accused, even if they weren’t planning anything. However, the right wording can help lower shoplifting incidences. “Shoplifting raises prices,” for example. “Need more? Seek help!” could be a sign on products like medicines where they can seek government support. It shows the store’s awareness of their struggles and a willingness to help them.

Don’t Lay Down All Your Cards

If you can carve out space for a stockroom instead of pouring your products on your shelves, you can limit the number of items stolen. You want to change their mindset from “they’ll never miss it” to “they don’t have that many, they might miss it.” It also forces them to compete with others looking for the same product, who would probably notice if someone was trying to sneak out with it.

Don’t Give Them A Reason for Revenge

This is basic customer service, but it saves your store too. Taking time to keep the store clean, to encourage employees to speak to customers and to be helpful, reduces the “justifications” a possible thief might have in taking anything from your store. This does not mean, in any way, that they are justified if they do steal. At the very least, your store maintenance is just a preventative action against stealing. 

If You Lock Something Up, Give A Good Reason

You know, and we know, that you’re locking up those medicines and diapers because of shoplifters. However, to lower the possibility of giving offense, it doesn’t need to come off that way. Medicines can be locked up “for the safety of any children passing through the store.” Diapers can be locked up “for sanitary purposes.” If customers don’t feel like you are trying to deprive them of something they need, the possible impulse to steal would be much lessened. 

Friendly Vigilance is Key

“Friendly Vigilance” might sound like an oxymoron, a self-contradicting statement, but that is the tension you are managing. How can you make people feel aware of being watched, without letting them want revenge or seek the thrill? It’s something each security team can figure out according to what they face. 

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