Everyone nabs something now and then — a pack of smokes no one’s minding at a house party, a beer from a bodega when you’re already way too drunk, train fare by jumping a turnstile. But routinely going into stores with dedicated loss-prevention teams and stealing expensive things for years without being caught, that takes skill.
Apparently my friend — let’s call her “Jane” — has that skill. She’s been seriously shoplifting for less than three years, but doing it so regularly that she’s already amassed over $10,000 worth of stolen merchandise, and all without being stopped by security even once.
I sat down with Jane to find out how she does it and what advice she has for kids new to the game. Being a girl, she only lifts clothes, shoes, makeup and other useless shit, so this won’t help you get a brand new flat screen for free, but maybe you can get your girlfriend something nice for once.
Arv: When did you first start stealing stuff?
Jane: It wasn’t until I started working for Anthropologie, like maybe a year or so in. I just didn’t get paid shit, and I was there all the time, and, I dunno, I spent way too much money there. I just started taking stuff slowly, and I got really good at it. It wasn’t really until I moved here [to New York City] that I started stealing from other places.
Do you think you’re a klepto? Or do you take stuff you actually like?
I take stuff I actually like, and I’ve also recently taken stuff that was really expensive that I could sell. I’ve never really stolen anything just to steal, it’s usually stuff I like. I probably don’t “need” any of this shit, but I steal things I want.
Where do you sell this stuff?
I would sell it at Buffalo Exchange and Beacon’s Closet. And then I just started selling stuff on eBay ‘cause I had like four dresses that I didn’t want and they’re really expensive. I also got fired from Beacon’s, so I just don’t want to fucking sell there anymore. And I made a lot more money on eBay. I sold something for $130 last week that was originally like $500, and then something for $80 the other day.
Is it only stuff from places that you’ve worked?
No, now I do it at places I understand. If I understand the system and I know what would set the alarm off, if I just feel comfortable, ‘cause I want to be smart about it. I don’t ever want to get caught. It’s stupid to not be careful about it.
What’re the factors you take into account?
Is there an alarm system by the door? What kind of security tags do they use? I always take off any kind of paper or any sort of tag on it because you never know. Like the Anthropologie tag, just those little cardboard ones, have sensors in them. You never know what has a sensor in it so it’s better to just take everything off. Like, feel it and know there’s nothing on there.
Is there special gear that you use, like wearing a large coat or using a large bag or making sure you bring scissors with you?
When I stole at Anthroplogie, I would wear baggy clothing to work and wear stuff under my clothes out because they would check your bag when you left. And then, when I stole from Uniqlo, I’d just shove it in my purse. And now since living here, I’ll sometimes wear a coat so I can conceal something in order to get it into the fitting room. But normally I need a big shopping bag and a purse, because it’s really easy to use shopping bags.
Where else do you usually steal from or have you in the past?
Top Shop. A lot. That’s where I got all the really expensive dresses. It was Kate Moss for Top Shop. I’ve stolen from some boutiques and some smaller stores, and that I felt bad about, because the whole thing with Anthropologie was like, I hate this place. It made me feel better, and that’s really why it started. It made me feel better to get that stuff for free because I didn’t think Anthropologie deserved my money and I just didn’t have respect for the company.
When you go out to steal something, will you also buy something? Like put a bunch of stuff in your bag and then go to the register with one really cheap thing?
I’ve considered doing that before, but then I was thinking, if someone is suspecting me, I should just get the fuck out of there rather than standing in line just to buy something. They’re still going to think something’s shady.
Are there ground rules you follow every time you go out? Or do you figure it out on the spot, like what you should do, what you should take?
If I go into a place like Urban Outfitters and there’s not a lot of shoppers and there’s a ton of employees, that kind of freaks me out. ‘Cause my whole system is I go in, I pick out a bunch of things and, if I can — at Urban they count them out but at Top Shop they ask, so you just lie and tell them you have a lower amount — if I can conceal stuff just so that my number is lower, in case I came out and they wanted to match up numbers. But normally, I remove the tags in the fitting room and stuff it in my bag and on my person, then bunch all the hangers up, put double hangers on dresses and just make it look normal, and if they ask me, just say I’m thinking about it. And then put them all away either fast or while I’m still shopping around and then leave. But if no one’s in there shopping, they’re like, “This girl’s tried on all this stuff and then went and put each and every single one back?” And also, I’ll get a big coat to try on to put all the tags and stuff in and put that back on the floor. So if they did think I was weird and went and checked that coat, then they’d know what was up.
What’re the easiest places to steal from?
Urban’s tags are really really easy to get off. But they pay more attention in the fitting rooms, so that’s kind of annoying. It really just depends. Top Shop is really easy when it’s busy just ‘cause nobody’s looking at you.
But my friend who works at Urban eats for free at Dean & Deluca every day. He just steals his lunch every day from Dean & Deluca. I’ve done it a couple of times.
From the same Dean & Deluca?
Yeah, the same one. So they really don’t give a fuck. He gets a drink, sushi.
Does he just walk out with it?
He walks in with his coat over his arm, picks it up and then walks back out.
When you said tag, do you mean the paper tags? What happens if you come across a metal contraption?
Yeah, there’s the hard tag where there’s a pin and a big piece of plastic, and the pin goes into the plastic and locks. Working at Anthropologie for a long time, there’s a big magnet glued to the desk and you’d remove the sensors with that…. So I was like, I need a really big magnet.
Now I was like, I’m getting kind of crazy, I don’t know if I should do this. But I was like fuck it, I want a big magnet. So I ordered a big magnet on eBay. I did a little bit of research to make sure that it would be strong enough and it finally got here and I took it out. I took it to Top Shop first and it was really hard with theirs. I can’t even get it out sometimes. But I’ve gotten most of the stuff I’ve tried to steal from there.
With the magnet?
With the magnet. But a lot of their stuff isn’t tagged too. I think they just get lazy when they’re putting it back on the floor or something because I found a lot of stuff without tags there too, so that makes it a little easier.
What were you looking for when you found the magnet? Like, what specifications does the magnet have to be?
I saw a YouTube video. I could only find one video of someone doing it. ‘Cause there’s all these instructional videos on YouTube on how to get magnets off and they’re all really stupid and long and boring, and then this guy just threw it against the magnet and it popped off. And I was like, I need that one! So I think somewhere in the comments on it someone mentioned what kind of magnet you would need. So I looked it up. [Author’s Note: The magnet was grade N52.] At Top Shop, I have to work it until I get it a little out and then just pull it until it pops, which is annoying.
So what do you do if you leave the fitting room and, let’s say you already have something in your bag, but you know guards are on to you?
Without beelining it to the door like you’re guilty and you know they’re on to you, just slowly and as casually as possible get out of there. Don’t give them a chance to come up and talk to you. The second you feel weird or uncomfortable or someone’s looking at you, you want to get out of there. Keep your head down. If you have headphones, that’s even better. Put your headphones on so it seems like you’re not even paying attention because if you do set the door off, they’ll be like — some places don’t even care; Uniqlo won’t stop anyone if the door goes off — but at Anthropologie they’re really serious about it. And Top Shop has a guard, although he seems really lazy to me. But at Anthropologie the guys take it really, really seriously. Having worked at one here, I know that they have different bosses and their job is to make sure that they stop you. But if the door goes off, you have to keep walking. Don’t stop, don’t pause, don’t look back. If you don’t have headphones on and you keep walking without even reacting at all, they’ll know you stole something just because any normal person would at least be like, “Uh?” But the second you’re out the door, they can’t go out there. I mean, they can come out and yell at you and tell you to come back in and stuff, but they can’t physically touch you and bring you back in the store.
Is that a legal issue?
It’s assault, I think. I know that’s how it is in Massachusetts, and I’m pretty sure it’d be the same here. They’re not bouncers, they can’t run out and tackle you to the ground or arrest you on the spot. Although I did see one girl with bad timing: She ran out and there was a cop just driving really slow by. But under all other circumstances, if you set the door off, keep walking and act completely oblivious. Don’t run, just walk away and get out of sight.
What are some pro-tips for people who just started stealing?
There could be a tag on everything. So many people get busted at Urban because it doesn’t occur to them that those papers, those white cardboard things are an alarm. So be aware of everything that’s on it. Be really, really, really careful. Start small. Be aware of your surroundings. And know, most importantly, know that you just need to get out of there. Never stop, never make an excuse, never give anyone the chance to confront you.