Boosters and kleptos are really prolific thieves

When I described amateur shoplifters I explained why I hate them. Now, though, I want to describe two completely different kinds of shoplifters. They’re not related, except for the fact that what they do is either a business or uncontrollable and it’s hard to feel too strong about them. The first kind are boosters, or professional shoplifters. They’re probably the ones responsible for the lion’s share of the $10 billion in shoplifting losses each year. Lets face it, people. $10 billion is a lot. In 2011, $1.8 billion of that total was stolen in December. Happy Holidays, huh. You can’t help but be impressed by the scale of that kind of lawlessness. It’s going on all around us, probably most of the time us regular people are out and about and it’s and mostly under the radar. Did you know that $10 billion worth of stuff is getting shoplifted all around us while we shopped?

The other kind are the mentally ill kleptomaniacs. Calling someone a ‘klepto’ has become a cliché. I hate clichés but in this case I’m using the short hand version of an actual psychiatric term. Mild impulse control is one thing, but a real kleptomaniac is really odd. What they do is uncontrollable, so it’s hard to be upset. Supposedly there’s little or no treatment for them except anti-depressants that don’t really stop thieving and  psychotherapy isn’t so great either.


This guy stole stuff from retail stores and sold it on eBay. Over seven months the FBI says he listed 6,681 items and made $43,200. One store documented 105 separate visits. This was a full time job for him until he got a year and a day in Federal prison.

Boosters are the professional shoplifters. Stealing from big box stores is their business and they go about it in a very organized way. Many times they have teams that practice and then work together in the store. One team works to hit the store security if they look like they’re closing in on the other team. Big stores usually only have a couple of people on the floor and if they’re outnumbered or going to get hurt they will back down. Some stores like Target specifically tell their security people not to get into physical confrontations. They are to observe and report like that mall cop. What was his name? Oh yeah, Paul Blart.

The other teams that do the actual stealing will go for specific items. Sometimes these groups have lists of things they are to go after that they know they can resell online or at stores their group has a special deal with. They also keep stuff they know they can return at various places during the holiday rush without a receipt. That way, they get in-store credit they can then use to go after the electronics that are normally locked up and hard to boost without getting violent.

Groups of boosters will drive somewhere in a couple of cars or a van and hit all the stores in the area in an hour. Then they drive to another area and do it again. The ones I’ve talked to make no bones about saying they go to the stores that are along major streets or highways because it’s kind of like their sales route, but backwards. They drive around stealing. If they get arrested at all, they are never coming back after they get released. You will only talk to them once before they make bail so make the most out of that conversation. They know just about every state doesn’t extradite for minor theft charges and many cities don’t bother with transport, either. They will be gone, gone, gone.

The other kind of booster is the lone duck. He or she is just boosting for the money. Take, for example, the guy in the picture above. You can read more about John Patrick Weismiller and how he operated by looking at the FBI’s webpage they devote just to him:

Not too many people get their own FBI webpage. His mother must be really proud. This guy’s ebay site was called ‘myotherjob2001.’ Apparently the police believe that he was making about $10,000 a month and from the name of his site he had been doing this for about 10 years before he was finally arrested. Hmm, lets do the math…$120,000 a year for ten years…. is $1.2 million.

What’s really interesting is that FBI special agent Joe Boyer says this about him: “This guy was incredibly brazen. He was making his living doing this. This was his full-time job. He lived in a nice house in the suburbs with his wife and kids. If you lived next door,” he said, “you would have no idea he was a thief.” Well that sums it up nicely, folks.

Booster bags are lined with metal to prevent the anti-theft tags from communicating with the security gates by the doors.
Booster bags are lined with metal to prevent the anti-theft tags from communicating with the security gates by the doors.

One more thing before we move on – all those electronic monitors and dye tags don’t slow down boosters. They have the gear to pop them off or cut them loose. The experienced groups also figured out how to go out the back or the staff entrances so they look like they are just working there. Pretty smart, huh.  They also use special “booster bags” with metal linings to prevent the tags on merchandise from setting off the alarms at the front doors.

They have some other tricks that I don’t want to go into but suffice it to say that they are good at using technology and basic stuff like tape to hide merchandise.

The klepto

I’ve actually met two real kleptomaniacs in my lifetime. Kleptomania is called an ‘impulse control disorder’ and boy is it. Real kleptos don’t come along too often because supposedly the disorder is fairly rare. The docs say only .6% of the population has a form of this disease. You’ll know when you meet a real one because they operate by stealing small stuff and it’s usually always something they don’t need. Little things are easy to slip in your purse and they satisfy their mental illness for a few minutes.

The thing is that kleptos steal stuff all the time. It’s a volume business for them. You have to talk with them out on the sidewalk so they don’t rip off everything they can get their hands on in your conference room. Both of the kleptos I’ve met were women, although I don’t think that is evidence of any kind of trend. They looked like anyone’s little old grandmother. They smiled sweetly when I talked to them. One of them I’ll call ‘Grandma’ offered me little pieces of candy she got from her purse. It was probably the first time in a while that she gave something back because it was the candy we used to have in the dish out front that morning.

Bad grandma!

After ‘Grandma’ was arrested a few times the police executed a search warrant on her home and found six foot high piles of little stuff. The pictures of what they found were absolutely unbelieveable. She was a hoarder of small stolen things. It was heaped everywhere. There was so much of it there that it was a health hazard, fire hazard, environmental hazard, you name it. It was just dangerous. Apparently the woman organized her stolen stuff in the beginning like hairspray in that pile, nail polish over there, etc. But for the last few years she stopped bothering and just dumped it in piles wherever there was room and the stacks were out of control. Entire rooms were filled up to the ceiling. Apparently in the last few years she had preferred to steal cheap trinkets like little painted animals with big teary looking eyes.

Grandma’s living space was clean, though. I’ll give her that. It wasn’t anything like one of those episodes of hoarders on TV where there are just disgusting piles of trash everywhere. This woman kept what little living space she still had nice and organized.

-Samuel Owen

© Samuel Owen 2012. All rights reserved. Please read important notices and disclaimers by clicking here.

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