Why do people shoplift? Top 10 reasons

Impulse control, drug and alcohol use, stress, and financial problems can all cause people to shoplift. A review of the compulsive nature of shoplifting and why people shoplift here.

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Shoplifting is one of the most common but least detected and reported crimes.

If you are reading this, maybe you or your loved one has been recently convicted of shoplifting. Or maybe you want to know the signs of shoplifting addiction. Or you might wonder if repeat shoplifters need help or counseling. Here we will review why people shoplift and later we will talk more about shoplifting addiction and treatment.

Why do people shop lift?

1. Self service sales methods – Stores and shops display prepackaged goods openly rather than behind high counters, closed cupboards or open shelves beyond a customer’s reach. Self services makes shoplifting easy.

2. Drug addiction – The need for drug money can cause some people to shoplift. Shoplifting is thought to fuel drug trade, because it provides the income some addicts need to buy drugs.

3. To make a living – Some people shoplift to survive and either sell or barter what they steal.

4. For spending money and status – Research has consistently shown that juvenile males are more often involved in theft than other groups and who need spending money to buy clothes or items which bring social status among their peers.

5. To own the goods – Shoplifters also take enjoyable things to own and consume.

6. Psychological temptation – The psychological orientation towards the “unconscious” shopper that entice tempting acquisition of goods and impulse buying contributes to shoplifting.

7. Low risk – About 1 in 150 shoplifters actually gets caught. In combination with the low chance of getting caught, shoplifters can offer a believable excuse, such as forgetfulness and intention to pay.

8. Lack of tracking and security – The stock control in shops is so deficient and retailers simply do not track shoplifting. As long as theft and damage of goods, does not rise above 2-3% of goods sold, retailers pay little attention to shoplifting. Additionally, retailers are often unwilling to pay for extra security and prevention measures and instead rely on local police to enforce laws. And finally, stores can be designed that make theft prevention difficult.

9. Mental health disorder – Stealing without needing to is called kleptomania and is an impulse control disorder. Experts think that this mental health disorder accounts for up to 5% of shoplifting cases. More on signs of kleptomania here.

10. Low fines – If caught for shoplifting, typical sums charged are $250 for adult shoplifters and $120 for juveniles. These low fines may not provide enough incentive for shoplifters to stop stealing.

EXTRA REASON why people shoplift…

11. Depersonalization – People seem to have fewer inhibitions about stealing from shops than from private individuals, because a corporation is seen as an entity rather than a person. Some shoplifters believe shoplifting harms no one except an anonymous business that can take the losses as a tax write-off.

Is shoplifting an addiction?

Shoplifting can fuel drug addiction, but it can also be an addiction of its own, especially if a person impulsively steals without the need to do so. If you have questions about shoplifting, please leave them below. We will be happy to help you, no matter your situation.

References sources: Problem Oriented Guides for Police
Hot Products: Understanding, Anticipating and Reducing the Demand for Stolen Goods
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. I am writing because I have a serious problem with shoplifting and last night got busted for it once again. Please help me.
    Thank you
    Coleen M.

  2. I have starting stealing petty items that don’t cost much and are small. I am 60. Unemployed so can’t buy stuff like an 8 quid foundation or mascara. I did also take a tshirt that i wore under my clothing as it didn’t have an alarm tag. I’ve noticed cheaper items don’t seem to have them.
    I think I’ve gone as low as I can in life and have no real pride left, I’ve no friends partner job car or money. I suffer depression anxiety arthritis and diabetes. Life seems pointless at times. This is an escapism and maybe I kind of like the challenge. It’s wrong and I know it. Hope to get help soon as I really would feel ashamed if caught.

  3. I work overnight on a pack-out team for a warehouse retail store. Almost every night I THINK about petty theft, but I have no intention of taking anything. I’ve worked for this company for over ten years and I have never taken anything, nor am I planning to. But the thought persists and I hate myself for having these thoughts. I am terrified that if they find out I’m thinking about it all the time, I will get fired, even though I have never taken anything. How can I stop these negative thoughts?

  4. People are motivated do 2 things: to either avoid pain or gain pleasure. To the shoplifter either they are in desperate need of something like food or they get an incredible dopamine rush which is their pleasure.

  5. People are so judgemental of things they don’t understand. Mental illness seems to often be at the top of the list of causes for misunderstood behaviors. I suffer from depression to the point where I can’t function in society – I don’t know why, I wasn’t an abused child or anything, although my family is pretty screwed up. Anyway, I have always been very insecure, and I can’t remember a time when I was truly happy, or even content. I’m a mother and I love my children very much, and I hate myself for hurting them, yet it’s still not enough to keep me from my addictions – addiction is completely destroying me and my family, and I just can’t stop. I am a drug addict and I’m addicted to shoplifting. I’ve been arrested for shoplifting several times over the last 30 yrs or so, 6 times in the last year. It might send me to prison! I don’t know why I continue to do the things that cause me more misery & pain, not to mention coat me my dignity, freedom, trust worthiness and self respect. These two addictions have cost me my marriage, career, family and children…Yet I still do it. I’m not a mean person,and I’m a very loving and attentive mom. I’m not lazy or entitled as one of you suggested. I’m college educated, well liked, pretty smart, and probably could have really made something of myself…Instead I live with my parents, I’ve lost custody of my children, both ex husband hate me, I’m unemployable, a felon, and I can’t stand to look in the mirror. So, taking all of that into accord, if you can give me a reason for this impulsive and destructive behavior other than a psychological disorder, I would love to hear it!!! NO ONE WOULD CHOOSE THIS LIFE!!! Those of you who claim I’m just a junkie and a thief because I choose to be are idiots! If all of this is because I’m lazy and selfish, I wouldn’t lay in bed at night praying to God not to wake up in the morning…Don’t judge me, or any other addict, I’m just a messed up person who has made some mistakes and doesn’t know how to change. Are you really “better than” Mr simply because I have more problems?!!

  6. married 30 years, wife to lift stuff5 years back. At times they thought it wasdue to others meds. Today she took $750 DOLLARS OF CLOTHES FOR THE GRAND KIDS. She for 11 months mabe no hoiuse payment and paid no taxes for three years. She cant or wont tell me why.. She takes from my bank account and I only asked that she just ask first. I am abot done. I am 65 years old and fear she will get into my saving and spend it all on grandkids whoes life now dominates ours. This was not the plan for our retirement, watch kids, not to mention the shop lifting.

  7. I believe my stealing began around 2 years ago and I do wonder if it is a result of losing several loved ones in my life consecutively, then lost my job when my company outsourced my department and have had to spend savings and inheritance money just to live. I am constantly changing price tags, stealing from thrift stores and even a little retail shoplifting but for small personal necessities, like a new lipstick but nothing very expensive. I wonder if it is because I’ve lost a lot of security and stability and I’m trying to compensate for those losses plus I cannot afford to have the few things that I do steal. I feel very little guilt but maybe because I’ve not been caught and if I were caught I’d feel embarrassment, not guilt. Just wondering if anyone else steals after experiencing great losses in life. I then have to lie to explain where I’ve gotten the stolen things and that makes me feel like a liar and a thief but doesn’t deter me from doing it. I also have been too honest of a person all my life, taught that I’d get payback for being immoral but somehow I don’t care anymore as it seems honesty and virtue get you nowhere.

  8. Most of these are how shoplifters steal, not why they steal. They steal because they’re too lazy to work for the money. They steal because they feel entitled. They steal because it’s all about them with no regard for the person the’re stealing from. In our courts are letting them get away with it.

  9. My girlfriend of 5 years is about to graduate college with good grades and has a decent income. Her parents were/are gamblers.
    She has recently started shoplifting small items that cost under$3.00, but she has taken money out of my account Once. I put a stop to that. Yesterday she took a pillow from my mother’s home because she “liked it”. Her father passed away a few years ago. I’m worried she has depression and is acting out.

    1. Hi Aimee. I suggest that you talk to her about her problems, and even consider to speak with the school psychologist.

  10. People steal (shoplift, etc.) for one reason and one reason only. Because they want to. Anything else is making way too much out of theft. Thankfully, I’ve never had this problem. If this is a problem for you, accept the fact that you’re a thief, and decide whether or not you want to become an honest person.

    It’s real cut and dry. The decision is yours. Good luck to you.

  11. i am in my mid forties and a pretty casual person. i believe in freewill and try not to be too judgemental. hey we all have our own personal journey(s) to navigate thru. but this past year i met a friend who i really liked. i had a bad injury about 10 yrs ago and have started to get back on my feet a couple of years ago.
    this friend is a shoplifter, i was absolutely astounded when in a store i witnessed her doing this. i kept my composure while a million thoughts were racing thru my mind.
    later, i stated well, things are really expensive now,and your a grown woman, so free will do what you want. when she repeated this behaviour i stated to her this is wrong,you have children to set an example for. my kids have no one but me so getting charged is not an option idc if u disagree, just do not ever do this around me and i refused to go into a store with her after this. about a month later she tears into my driveway saying she had been stopped while leaving by security. she ran her mouth,cried foul, dont u dare put your hands on me, and jumped into her car…. and came to my house to dump her stolen goods. once again, i supported her but not the action. as time went by, i became very upset by all this(as u can tell, i still am).
    this so called friend could easily have gotten me arrested more than once, if u dont know, you dont have to be the one stealing to get charged.
    reflecting on all this i realized she had told me, i can teach you how to do this, what do u need, ill get it for u. well i may be poor and i may be casual, but i got caught doing this at 14 and it was the most shameful humiliating experience of my life. and personally i cant get there.
    so like i said this good friend tried to coerce me, she has turned a few women onto this and i think its disgusting.
    the reason why i am writing this, is because i have not been socially active for so long, i feel like ive gone thru a teenager experience with peer pressure, this is a really friendly lady who likes to help the needy, but when look at her from a different scope, she is being more than an opportunist, this is planned methodology. kleptomania sounds so offhand and unplanned. but it feels like an assault on my psyche and this woman had nothing but the worst of intentions for me, while i was thinking how lucky i was to have found her.i dropped her immediately at xmas when her and another girlfriend justified an unbelievable spree because they were providing christmas far a family members children who was going thru a bad patch. she then proceeded to pull out 3 or 4 tablets out saying she was giving them to her kids and asked if i wanted one. i literally had tears running down my face,(i dont understand my reaction to this day) i said no and havent spoken to her since.
    this friend did get charged for the time she was stopped, they showed up at her door the next day. she was given a suspended sentence. i belive since i called it quits either her or the other girlfriend got caught. that one works in health care, they both own homes and vehicles etc. no their not “rich” but they arent in poverty trying to keep soul and body together.
    so… is my” friend” the root of all evil, or is the other friend just as guilty? i feel like this friend is like the worst type of drug dealer, here try this, youll like it and it wont hurt you. meanwhile…there goes your life down the crapper.
    i have compassion and understanding if your circumstances neccesitate drastic survivalist methods, but anything other than that i have no sympathetic understanding and i believe there should be a distinction between the two!! and i feel a judgement should be delivered to such cavalier people to instill a sense of shame. not jail, but a picture in the stores is a pretty good start.
    thankyou for letting me unload this because its been a toxic waste in my system.

  12. yesterday i go to the supermarket i try a lipstick in a cosmetic area and i love that color and i shoplift that lipstick when i already in the cashier i did not pay that and one security guard ask me if i have the bill of my grocery and i said yes and he ask me if did i buy a lipstick because they saw in the cctv that i stole the lipstick. We go to the manager office abd they investigate me i dont know why i do that things i have money but i prefer to stole than to buy please help me i dont know what to do.

  13. My wife has had a problem with shoplifting. In years past,she has been arrested twice; she went through a required modification behavior class. I thought she had been rehabilitated until today! I caught her with a box of bandaids in her pockerbook that she stiole I confronted her, she said she didn’t why she did it. She said she hardly remembered doing it. Help?

    1. Hi Mike. Maybe she is suffering from kleptomania. Has she been assessed by a professional psychologist or a licensed psychiatrist?

  14. I am not sure what has brought on my shameful addiction to this as I am in my early 50s now and have been doing this for almost fifteen years. Alot of the stuff I take i don’t even really want and I give it to needy friends etc I have that are in between jobs etc. The feeling during the lift is euphoric but afterwards there is a very shameful guilty pathetic feeling very unrewarding for me. I would never steal from an actual person but the stores do not phase me. Maybe there is something in life I am missing suddenly I am not sure but it is very impulsive and addicting to me.

  15. I’ve been shoplifting for about 4 years now. Knock on wood I have never been suspected. My friend who has stolen well over 10k of items showed me the ropes. At CVS, for example, I act calm and collected and pretend that I am shopping. I am an attractive female who dresses nicely, carries and giant expensive hand bag and slyly put the items I want in my purse when no one is looking. I hit up the same CVS hundreds of times. Only twice the have the alarms went off, but I just keep walking out acting like nothing is wrong. As long as a manager, customer or worker doesn’t see you, you’re pretty free and clear. I make sure once I do hit that store up, I do not return for a long time so not to bring the heat on myself. Now, as far as clothing, my friend brilliantly informed me that there are no cameras in the dressing room. So I “shop” picking out the items I wish to take and hide them under the items I will eventually put back. ( I usually pick up a coat or anything with pockets to hide the tags and sensors in. Not once in the years I have been doing this, has the store clerk counted my items. Once I am in the dressing room. I carefully tear off the sensor and tags (just to be safe) put the sensor in the pockets, put the items I am stealing in my purse and walk out of the dressing room. Now, the clothes with the sensors I either but on the rack in the dressing room, or back where I found it and walk out casually. Has worked like a charm every time. **** the corporations and their over priced sh*t that probably costs $1 to make in sweat shops in Cambodia. I never once felt guilty for taking these items and actually feel elated that I get to walk out with brand new awesome clothes/jewelery/makeup. Like I said, after I hit up a store, I usually don’t return to those stores for at least a month or more.

  16. One reason may be because they are jealous of people who have a particular hobby,like if they secretly wished they were into hair and beauty,they’d steal makeup or something?

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