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Theft increases as shoplifters move into thrift stores

Chuck Biedka
| Sunday, June 14, 2009, 12:00 p.m.

Thrift stores, by design, help lower-income people but serve as bargain stores for others -- including thieves.

"We're just like any other retailers," said Martina O'Leary, who supervises Pittsburgh region Salvation Army stores.

"Shoplifting is not rampant," she said, "but it happens."

Last week, two women were charged with taking about $262 worth of clothing and a designer bag from the Salvation Army store in Kiski. There had been similar thefts there in recent weeks.

University of Florida criminologist Richard Hollinger said thrift stores using surveillance cameras is a reflection of the times.

"The shrinkage rate is up, and the shoplifting numbers are up," he said. Shrinkage is a total of shoplifting, employee theft and related crime.

As the economy continues to adjust, more people are shopping in thrift or second-hand stores, she said.

"I wouldn't call it a growing problem. But it's one of the unfortunate consequences of our business," said David Tobicheck, spokesman for Goodwill Industries of Pittsburgh, which operates about 20 thrift stores in the region.

"They are taking money away from our mission to help people," Tobicheck said.

The Arlington, Va.-based Retail Industry Leaders Association sees an indirect link between more shoplifting and changes in the economy.

"There is a link, but there is also a misconception about why and how they are tied," said Casey Chroust, the association's vice president.

"Most people think that in rough economic times people steal to put food on the table and provide for their family. That's not the case.

"People are stealing DVDs, trendy clothes and similar things. These are not items to better their family situation. We view it as stealing some items to save money to spend on other items," Chroust said.

"As the economy turns around, hopefully the shoplifting numbers will reflect that," he said.

According to the Association, in the first four months of this year 61 percent of their retailers experienced an increase in "amateur /opportunistic shoplifting." Also, more than 70 percent of the companies saw an increase in organized retail crime.

Stealing facts

•More than $35 million worth of goods are stolen from retailers each day.

•There are an estimated 27 million shoplifters in the United States.

•About 25 percent of all shoplifters are juveniles. The remaining 75 percent are adults of whom 55 percent started while they were juveniles.

• About 3 percent of shoplifters are professionals who steal for a living. They are thought to take 10 percent of all stolen goods.

• About 57 percent of the adults and 33 percent of the juveniles caught say it's hard for them to stop.

Source: National Association for Shoplifting Prevention

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