Some Psychological Explanations for Why People Shoplift

Quite frequently people end up in our offices charged with shoplifting, or what is known in Canada as the offence of “Theft Under $5000” under the Criminal Code. Almost without fail, these people have never been in trouble with the criminal justice system before. They have jobs, if not careers. They have families. They often are very involved in their communities. They have a lot to lose, yet they still decided to shoplift, despite not having a financial need to do so. 

 I hope that these people find some comfort in the fact that we can explain to them that they are not alone in finding themselves in this situation. Some statistics report that as many as 1 in 10 North Americans will shoplift during their adult life. Most of these people do not do so out of financial need, but rather they do it as a response to psychological stressors in their lives, most often depression, but sometimes also anxiety.

 In his PhD dissertation Matthew Geyer did a study of 116 adult shoplifters who were caught for the first time. His study seems to indicate that, in addition to depression and anxiety, there is a correlation between shoplifting behaviour in people and experiences of loss in the time preceding the offence.  

Yves Lamontagne and his team did a similar study of 106 first time offender shoplifters. They were attempting to evaluate the relationship or correlation between demographic factors, anxiety, significant losses, depression, irrational beliefs and shoplifting behaviour.  Their findings included that men and women seem to be equally likely to be arrested for shoplifting, as well as that there are a certain number of people who shoplift as a response to depression or in an attempt to fulfill some other psychological need.  

 Dr. Will Cupchik has made a career out of studying this phenomenon. His research has been dedicated to understanding it and has spanned some 40 years. His book, Why Honest People Shoplift or Commit Other Acts of Theft – Assessment and Treatment of Atypical Theft Offenders, has been published in several different versions over the years and is widely available from on-line book sellers. He has also founded the Cupchik Center for Assessment and Treatment of Atypical Theft Offenders and he offers online treatment for people who find themselves in situations like this. His website is

Being charged with a criminal offence has the potential to be a life changing event. At Mines & Company we not only intricately understand the criminal process related to shoplifting, we understand that there are people and problems behind the alleged offence and we use our experience and knowledge to help our clients navigate the situation with as little fall out as possible. We are also experienced  in accurately informing our clients about the potential implications of a conviction on travel, volunteering and all types of criminal and background checks, as well as working to eliminate these or to minimize them to the greatest extent possible, given the unique situation. If you or someone you love is facing a criminal charge for shoplifting we would be happy to help.