Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What I’ve learned about shoplifters November 29, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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VanillaI’VE HAD SOME EXPERIENCE with shoplifting. Not that I ever shoplifted. But some 30 years ago, when I worked at a local grocery store, a customer stole a bottle of vanilla as she passed through my check out lane.

The manager directed me and the suspect to the office to wait for the police. There I had to pat down the woman, a duty which to this day did not seem mine to perform. Today I would refuse to do so.

That initial encounter, though, erased any preconceived stereotype of shoplifters. This was an ordinary looking young woman, not someone who appeared down and out and in desperate need of stuffing vanilla, of all things, under her shirt. She could have been your sister.

Not long after, another customer tried to steal groceries via distraction. She engaged me in friendly conversation while I punched the prices of food, pulled from her cart, into the cash register. (This was in the days before bar codes.) “Pulled from her cart” are the key words here. She purposely failed to place the merchandise stashed under her cart onto the conveyor belt. The store manager, or maybe it was the security guy, noticed. Busted.

I learned two more key lessons about shoplifters. Always check under the grocery cart. And don’t be fooled by a friendly customer.

Fast forward three decades. My husband and I are shopping at Walmart in Faribault for, among other items, charcoal filters. When Randy finally locates the right number to match our room air purifier, he opens the box to assure the proper fit.

But there is no four-pack of filters inside. Rather, Randy finds two hard plastic shells in the shape of pliers. Except the pliers are missing. And so are the filters.

Who does this anyway?

And how did the thief manage to open that hard-as-steel clear plastic packaging right there in the aisle of Walmart without getting caught? Wedging open those molded casings is no easy feat, even in the comfort of your home.

I felt it my duty to report the theft to an associate in the hardware and paint department. He expressed no surprise at the method of stealing. “Happens all the time,” he said.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Have you had any experience with shoplifters or shoplifted merchandise?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


31 Responses to “What I’ve learned about shoplifters”

  1. hotlyspiced Says:

    Shopping in stores is becoming more and more expensive and you feel that good value is becoming a thing of the past. Apart from a steep rise in taxes, I’m sure the other reason is the constant flood of shoplifting. It’s rife! I’m so sorry to hear this, Audrey xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I did not include this in my post. But when I was grocery shopping last week, I overheard a store employee phoning the police to report a shoplifter being held in the office. As I rounded the corner of the aisle, the employee opened the office door. I saw a mother with her two young children waiting inside. Sad, so sad. Those children learned an important lesson in a very personal way.

  2. Deanna Auge Says:

    About shoplifting… At a very young age, I learned from my parents and Sunday School teachers that stealing is wrong, so when I observed two little friends of mine stealing pencils and bubble gum when the shopkeeper was not looking, I told my friends that I would tell their mothers if they did not return the items to the store. The pencils may have been put back but I think the gum was history. Years later, I learned that one of those girls, by now a teenager, had purchased a sweater to wear on a date. She wore the sweater after a night of dancing, then returned the clothing article to the store for a full refund. The store clerk told me about this situation. I never totally trusted that girl, again, and disassociated myself from her for a long period of time. I have heard similar stories to what you have experienced and been told that much business theft is employee-related. Yes, a red flag on people who are over-friendly… politicians, and the like.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Great point that learning right from wrong starts at a young age. Your parents and Sunday School teachers clearly taught you well and it is admirable that you would stand up to your friends like that. You were wise, later on, to distance yourself from the young woman who chose to “shoplift” that sweater for an evening.

      I expect you are correct that some of this theft is employee related.

      One of my cousins works at Walmart (not in Faribault) and one of her jobs is to watch for shoplifters. She’s told me a few stories and sometimes I fear for her safety.

  3. Beth Ann Says:

    I am sure it goes on way more than I can even imagine but I guess I don’t have any stories to relate. I figure we all pay for it in increased costs at every level. None of my family works in retail so we don’t have any of those stories to share, I guess. I am sure it is rampant today on Black Friday. Ugh.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yes, I can only imagine the amount of shoplifting that occurs on Black Friday. A week ago Saturday, during a big sale at a local grocery store, I overheard an employee phoning the police about a shoplifter. See my previous reply to a comment left by Charlie from hotlyspiced.

  4. Jackie Says:

    I was kind of a naughty kid, but there were somethings I never did, shoplifting was one of them. I guess my mom & dad did a pretty good job of teaching me right from wrong. I worked in retail when i was in school but never witnessed any shoplifting, but I dont remember even watching for it. I’m sure those Walmart employees have lots of stories they could share.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I cannot, for one minute, imagine you as a “naughty kid.” Your parents did a great job of raising you as evidenced in the kind, caring, compassionate and loving person you are, my friend.

  5. treadlemusic Says:

    I have experienced similar and now check box contents before leaving the store. I, too, can’t figure out how those plastic pkgs are pried apart in the store when I can’t even do it at home after the purchase and using scissors, screwdriver/(butter) knife, etc!!!!! And why?? Really!!! Some items I could understand a “need” but others……..????????? Hugs…..

  6. Allan Says:

    Our wonderful Daughter who is now married with a beautiful daughter, our Granddaughter, and a recent college graduate, worked at Walmart for a number of years to save money for college. She worked in the personal products area, deodorant, make-up etc. She would spot many, not a few, but many people, young, old, male, female, open deodorants and spray their underarms, place it back on the shelf and leave. She told us never buy any product off the shelf before checking the lids. People would squeeze tooth paste into vials on their person! Many would come in and use a comb or brush off the rack to preen themselves. Mouth washes were found by her and her associates unsealed and used! She could write a book about “thieves” who steal in store, and don’t take the actual item, just the contents. Her job was to straighten shelves and make them neat, but most of the time, it was watching, and calling in store security.

    LAWS, a touchy subject with me, protect these thugs completely. If an associate sees someone sticking an object inside a coat, shirt, etc, they can not do anything about it until they actually walk out the doors with the stolen item. Even then there are restrictions as to “maybe they forgot to pay” for the item. How many of us have seen people walking around the fruit section, eating grapes?!! To me that is stealing too! You are eating something you did not pay for, or have intentions to pay for. When you get home and the grapes or whatever item you bought are bad, take them back for a refund, don’t eat them at the bins!

    A lady we know had her purse snatched from a man at Walmart. She didn’t notice it right away, but went for her purse to look at her list, and it was gone. She called security, and they took her into the back and treated her like she was the crook! She had to prove she had a purse with her, and to give details of the purse. In the mean time, the security scanned the video cameras and found a man who took her purse. Then they searched for him, found him, and had to “interview” him to find out if in fact he was the one who stole it, even though the camera saw him. All in all, she was held up for several hours, while the purse snatcher was questioned. She eventually got her purse, but not without a “whatfor” from the police and Walmart security. I am sure the snatcher got off with little or no lecture.

    I have seen purses unattended in a cart, and the lady is close by, but not within reach of her purse. One should never leave anything personal in a cart, but, after all, this is America! So shoppers, be aware of shop lifters, but be prepared to put your life on the line if you report one. No wonder retail stores put in a “Pilfer” add on to the cost of an item.

    Happy Thanksgiving, and Seasons Greetings to all. Great subject today Audrey!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Allan, I thought this post, which has been in my drafts for awhile, was an appropriate one to publish today.

      That said, thank you for sharing your detailed shoplifting stories. Frankly, I’m appalled at the ones you related from the Walmart aisles. I never would have thought of “shoppers” doing something as repulsive as using personal care items in the store and then putting said items back on shelves. Yuck.

      I’m totally with you on the purse snatching situation in that I’ve seen way too many women leave their unattended purses in their shopping carts. It’s like inviting someone to steal your bag.

      I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, Allan. I am always always grateful for your insightful comments.

  7. I had a personal experience with shoplifting several years ago when I was shopping for Thanksgiving groceries at a local Cub Foods store. I was in the checkout line, paying for my groceries and bagging them up. I had two full bags in my grocery cart and more groceries waiting to be bagged when the cashier finished ringing everything up. I went to pay and someone very quickly and quietly took my packed groceries out of the cart and went right out the door before I could turn around. I was completely surprised and didn’t quite know what to do, but the cashier called the manager right away. He didn’t even blink. He took my receipt, figured out what was no longer in front of us and had someone go get those items for me. I have long thought that whoever took the groceries really needed them. And I kind of think that manager felt that way, too. He apologized, even though that certainly wasn’t his fault, and was very kind to me as he replaced everything. But I think about that person who took the groceries from my cart often when I’m shopping for food.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      That’s an incredible story, Kathleen. And one incredible manager to handle the theft as he did. Great customer service.

  8. Marilyn Says:

    I’ve seen incidents similar to those told above, but the one that stickes with me: Daddy saw me pick up a paper clip from the floor of the old Murphy’s 5 & 10c Store and made me hand it over to Miss Pletcher at the front cash register and ask for forgiveness for trying to take it out of the store. I was about 4 years old. My conscience was awakened to the notion of right and wrong as it applied to my own actions on that day.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      What a fine fine father you had. And look how that lesson stuck with you, only a mere four-year-old then.

  9. Back in the world of retail for a whole 2 months now, It is apparent that honesty and morals are well, let’s say, lacking! I could go on a rant…but I have found the energy spent doesn’t do much good.
    And the rest of us pay for the thieves.

  10. alainafae Says:

    Most of my work thus far as been in retail. I wouldn’t call myself a sharp-eyed veteran by any means, but it’s not too difficult to notice when someone is paying far more attention to whether or not you’re looking at them than to the merchandise.

  11. nofrillswrapping Says:

    I live in a small town with one grocery store. About 6 months ago they had to terminate one of their long term employees who had been bagging his own groceries and taking them out without paying for them for over a year. They had him on camera, but really didn’t want to fire him. There really wasn’t any reason for him to steal as he was a full-time employee making a good salary. Even if he was short on money, there are food banks.

    Recently they caught a man stealing who laughed when he was caught. He said he wouldn’t mind paying a fine as compared to the thousands of dollars worth of groceries he had stolen out of the store it was peanuts.

    I think as the economy continues to get worse and more people have harder choices to make, or none at all, there is going to be a sharp increase in retail theft. It’s a shame because the owners have to make up the loss somewhere and it usually ends up being higher prices. But if it’s a choice between making sure your kids are warm in the winter or food, well…

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      That is so sad about the long-time employee. This has to be especially tough in a small town.

      I can’t condone stealing no matter the situation. As you point out, there are food banks to help those who need that extra help during these challenging economic times.

  12. nofrillswrapping Says:

    It was sad, but they had given him every opportunity to stop, so what else could they do? I happen to know the owners and even if he had gone to them and said he needed help, they would have done it. I understand he has relocated to another small town not to far from here and is again working in a grocery store there. Hopefully he has changed his way or his situation has been relieved.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Absolutely, he should have been terminated. I meant sad that the employee made this choice to steal from his employer.

  13. I have been a cashier and one of my many responsibilities was to make sure nothing left the store unpaid for. The biggest mystery was the VCR thefts – the real ones were shoplifted while the shoplifters left fakes in the boxes that never even looked like they have been opened – AMAZING! I also worked in fast food and there were a few individuals looking for free food.

  14. Wowza. When I worked at a children’s clothing store (I was very bad at it) I was warned what to look for in a shoplifter. Never witnessed one, thankfully.

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