seniors shoplifting

Seniors Shoplifting – Japan’s Baby Boomers getting busted….

(updated January, 2021)

Japan is one of the world’s richest and technologically advance countries in the world. Thirty-three percent of the population of Japan is over the age of 60.  Yet, despite the affluence a growing number of senior citizens in Japan are being busted for shoplifting.

Really, senior shoplifting?  That’s embarrassing.

Japaneses seniors receive adequate pensions and social security, so why do they steal.?

One commentator attributes the senior shoplifting to Japan’s seniors being cut off from the rest of society. Many are living alone for the first time in their lives. Sibylle Ito had thought that “shoplifting is done by attention deprived juveniles, but looking at the actual figures for young people (14 to 19 years old) shoplifting is on the decline in Japan.

When I first saw stories on seniors shoplifting, assumed that low Japanese social security or pension must forces the elderly to steal.  If loneliness is the major contributing factor to this disturbing, illegal action, that is much more serious.

Looking now solely at the responses of these mature Japanese, 55.4 percent were single and 40.2 percent were living alone. Of these shoplifters sadly almost 90% reported to have few friends, if any at all. Further 48 percent said they had no one to consult in case of any problems. Half of the elderly suspects seem rather depressed to me, because they stated that they had nothing to live for.” See the full article at Where Mt. Fuji Meets the Matterhorn.

Seniors Shoplifting is Not Confined to Japan

Senior shoplifting is not a major problem in the USA yet, but the troubling behavior is increasing.

One major pharmacy retailer has observed the problem and alerted their staff.  CVS “Loss Prevention” handbook warns employees that senior citizens on a “fixed income” present a “special shoplifting concern.” (CVS was sued for the notation in the handbook.)

The growing problem was highlited in an episode of Seinfeld way back in 1998.  The episode is titled “The Bookstore.”  Jerry catches his Uncle Leo stealing a book from Brentano’s. When Jerry confronts him, Leo protests that the petty theft is his right as a senior citizen.

Loss Prevention Magazine has reported on the problem of seniors shoplifting.  The note that “there has been a growing retail trend involving senior citizens taking part in shoplifting events.”

It could be that the current, tight economy makes it a real challenge to make ends meet on their fixed income.  In a bind, they may be making foolish decisions.  “Seniors are stealing everything from food and clothing to personal essentials and over-the-counter medications.”

MentalHelpNet published an article titled, “When Loneliness Makes Elders Steal” by Carrie Steckl PhD She seems to agree with the Japanese researchers.  “When Japanese people reach old age and retire, they aren’t treated like contributing members of society anymore. They are often isolated, ignored, and treated as if they are no longer needed.”

In all my years of living in Africa (25 years), I never heard one case of seniors shoplifting.  They are poorer than their Japanese and American counterparts.  Yet, they are far from lonely.  They live with their extended family whom the sired.  They are highly respected as well.  African seniors are the go-to consultants for community problems.  They are viewed as strongholds of wisdom.

In the United States, younger family members are less able or willing to care for their older relatives. Sadly, sometimes the grandfathers and grandmothers retaliate by acting out.

Seniors Shoplifting Case Studies

How big of an issue is Seniors Shoplifting?  Well, it may not be an epidemic yet, but for families who have elders who have been caught steeling, it is a genuine problem that cries out for a solutions.

Here is a candid discussion on the issue by family member of some of these seniors.

I pointed out in another article that seniors who connect with old friends might be good for their health.  It is definitely a solution to loneliness.

Surely, after being caught that the embarrassment at the retail shop and the appearance before a judge the seniors shoplifting would not be repeat offenders.  However, one 86 year old Chicago women was arrested for shoplifting for the 61st time.

Punishment and Solutions

For the most part, when seniors commit minor crimes, such as shoplifting, the judicial system most often hands down a minimum punishment. The charges might even be dropped.  For misdemeanor shoplifting and petty theft, elderly offenders consistently receive fines as opposed to jail sentences.  Their grandchildren and children are normally not treated in the same leniency.

A lesson from the situation in Japan could be that US boomers need to stay active in the community and remain healthily connected to family and friends.

Loneliness and depression are real problems for many seniors.  Again, I would point out that this is more of a problem for the developed would than for citizens of poorer countries.  They may be poorer in terms of monetary possessions.  They are much richer in terms of family life, particularly when it comes to respect and care for seniors.  There are many lessons that we can learn from them.

It could be that we can reduce the number of seniors shoplifting by just spending more time with those, who by their sheer years of experience, have a lot to teach us.



By Chowning

Richard Chowning was a teenager during the 60s. Being a Southern California resident during those years, he experienced many of the events and trends that distinguished those times.

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