Ever felt urged to steal a piece of bubblegum from the grocery store? Then you are likely training to become either a kleptomaniac or an addictive compulsive thief. Do not despair – you’re not alone. That’s not a threat.
True kleptomania is by standard practitioners of psychology viewed as a very rare condition. Lay people often confuse it with recurrent failure to resist obsessive, addictive, or compulsive thoughts or urges to steal objects which they often will use. Kleptomaniacs will steal without ever needing the things they steal. They do not feel anger, but they also don’t premeditate their actions. On the other hand, compulsive thievery is inspired by anger and there’s also a degree of premeditation involved, because often the items stolen will come in handy for the thief.
The ways in which psychologists cure these diseases is by attempting to find out what is the motivating factor for the person involved and address it. Honest people steal, they say. Not only through shoplifting but also through embezzlement and fraud.
“A kleptomaniac is someone who steals a lot but not particularly for monetary gain”, says Terry Shulman who is a self confessed ex-shoplifter. He says that most people that shoplift in any compulsive manner are really crying out for help. His own story shows that it is quite possible for people to overcome the habit, once a person understands the often complex causes. Where it gets tricky is where stealing has become an addiction. People who get hooked on shoplifting need specialized treatment.
However, owing up to the ugly truth and seeking help is already overcoming the biggest hurdle before someone will be able to stop the habit. Many shoplifters that contacted Shulman after he published his book and was interviewed on Oprah told him afterwards that they had been at the end of their ideas of how to tackle the problem. Shulman refuses vigorously to believe people that steal are bad, inhumane or evil. He condemns the crime but not the person committing it and says that stealing is symptomatic of something else in most of the cases.
This is also the view of Will Cupchik, an psycho analyst who’s authored a book outlining a method to treat honest and otherwise normal people with a compulsive shoplift problem. Claiming that he’s found the pattern of behavior of ‘Atypical Theft Offenders’, Cupchik provides interesting insights into the minds of shoplifters. He offers treatment courses with certified diplomas for people who’ve kicked the habit for good.
Both Cupchik and Shulman cite cases of high profile offenders that have lost their jobs for getting caught shoplifting and go on to analyse the events that are elemental to the habits. It appears that the factors that motivate people to steal items are largely similar in nature.
“[My story is not] intended to make excuses for stealing or shoplifting. I’m not suggesting shoplifting addicts go unpunished. Any illegal act, be it illegal gambling, drug offenses, or drunk driving, must have legal consequences”, he says. After his book was published a string of self help groups throughout the country was set up by people facing this problem. The first such a group was his home state Detroit, where he in 1992 set up Cleptomaniacs And Shoplifters Anonymous (CASA) because he wanted to provide a safe, confidential and non-judgmental space for compassion, understanding and recovery from “addictive-compulsive” dishonest behavior, primarily shoplifting, fraud,
Kleptomania and embezzlement
“Our stories illustrate how good but vulnerable people try to cope with life at pivotal times and how punishment is not enough to stop shoplifters. [They] go more in depth than previous stories in the scant literature available on shoplifting or kleptomania. I hope this will provide clarity and hope for those who have little of either,” Shulman says.
His website shopliftersanonymous.com cites figures that show just how endemic the situation is and what bearings it has on the economy. Shopping proletariat style does actually run into quite hefty sums in terms of dollar value. Retailers lose some USD25 million a day alone due to shoplifting. This is the largest ‘target area’ for the shoplifters; some 69% of them steal in department stores; 63% steals in supermarkets; 57% specialty shops; 54% convenience stores; 47% drug stores and 27% all other type stores.
And, interestingly, shoplifting is about the only area of crime that women get involved in on a par with men; the split is 50%-50%. It seems that this also is something people don’t easily give up on, because the large majority of culprits – 75% – is of adult age.
Many people that steal in some way or other will have less difficulty moving to different crimes. According to a study by Ernst & Young LLP and Ipsos-Reid in 2002, businesses can lose 20 percent of every dollar earned. “[When you] can justify one type of fraud [you] can justify another,” said George P. Farragher, an accountant and certified public fraud examiner at Ernst & Young’s Cleveland office commenting on his firm’s findings.
Twenty percent of the employees cited in that study said they were aware of fraud at their companies and the most common form was expense account fraud. Of the 20 percent of the people in the know, 37 percent even knew about theft of office items. What’s perhaps even worse; 16 percent knew employees who claimed extra hours worked and 7 percent said they knew people who inflated their expense accounts!