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The Shoplifters' Documentary
I caught an old documentary on TV about shoplifting. It opened with an interview of a man jailed for stealing a canned good. He was caught by the store guard and was asked to pay for the stolen item which costs Php35.00. If he pays, he goes free. He volunteers to return the item but that was not how it works. He did not have a single cent so he was sent to the police where bail was set at Php350.00 or 10 times the price of the stolen item. He was charged with theft and jailed. His bail rose to Php6,000.00 and was sentenced from 6 months to 6 years in prison. His inmates ridiculed him for going to jail because of one “delata” (canned good).
Anyway, the man shoplifted one tiny canned good and languished in jail but as the documentary unfolded, it showed people who turned shoplifting into a career and practiced their chosen profession freely.
The documentary introduced a woman named Pearlie who had been shoplifting for 15 years. She started her shoplifting career when she was 16 years old. She claimed she was forced into the business by poverty.
The Professional Shoplifters
At first, Pearlie would only steal an expensive brand of infant milk formula for her child but as she honed her craft to perfection, she started to make it her source of living. She usually worked with a partner who served as a lookout to alert her of the presence of guards, or when someone would be around who might notice her activity. She claimed that working with a partner helped her avoid arrest. She had never been caught.
Her modus operandi would be to buy some other inexpensive items. She would pay at the cashier while other stuff would be stuck between her thighs. Then she walked out casually.
Just like any other profession, Pearlie opted for retirement and her daughter jumped in to inherit her title as the “Queen of Shoplifting.”
Pearlie’s daughter, Tess talked about some kind of a “shoplifting institute” in their area who trained those who wanted to enter the business. There were people who benefited from training would-be shoplifters. The training was just like going to school where students started at first grade and promoted to higher levels. On the first days of training, incoming shoplifters would be trained to lift small items like candies, canned goods, or bread. Then they graduated to bigger items.
Tess learned to walk with items stuck between her thighs or the crotch-walking. She perfected the art of walking naturally even with a small electric fan between her thighs. When on duty, the dress code required a skirt to cover the stolen items sandwiched in her thighs.
According to Tess, they followed two systems at work. One would be the crotch-walking where they had to wear a skirt or a full dress and walked with the stolen items stuck between their thighs. The second system would be to mingle with other customers so as not to attract attention, and at the first chance, would lift products they fancied.
Most shoplifters would go to work complete with props. They would bring with them plastic bags in the same color used by the grocery store, they would have staplers, and they would scour the store for receipts dropped by customers. With the stolen items in their own plastic bags, complete with stapled receipts, they would walk out the door past the unsuspecting security guards.
Shop owners claim that they lose about Php90,000 a month to shoplifters. Most of the shop offices have a wall filled with pictures of shoplifters whose faces have become familiar to the security guards.
Tess has been caught shoplifting several times, and has been in and out of jail but it did not stop her from practicing her profession. Once caught, shoplifters’ pictures are taken and added to the sea of faces on the wall. They are then taken to the police where most of them promptly post bail and walk. Most businessmen do not want to follow through with the case because they do not have the time to go through the judicial process. So most of those apprehended are back at their store in a month or two and do their thing again.
A Profitable Business
Shoplifting seems to be a very profitable business. Perhaps it is no longer poverty that is the driving force behind this game. Accordingly, Pearlie has been forced into the business to feed her children, and she has fed them well. They have nursed on one of the most expensive infant milk formula in the market. For fifteen years, Pearlie did not even consider sending her children to school to make a better life for themselves. Instead, she has allowed her daughter to embrace the business with open thighs… err… open arms.
Perhaps there are other motivations here, perhaps it is the easy money, it is laziness, it is greed. Tess and her partners go shoplifting and when they feel they have enough for the day, they go home. All the stuff that Tess brings home are turned over to her younger sister who sells them to the neighbors. It is a family business, everyone is involved. In less than an hour, all the stuff are sold out.
When interviewed, the buyers said they are happy to buy the shoplifted goods because they are sold at a lesser price. They can never afford to buy branded items from the malls but from Tess they can buy signature pants at half its price, or even less. The customers can even place an order for items they want, and they get them the next day. On school openings, Tess gets lots of orders for school uniforms, school shoes, school bags, and other school supplies.
When asked what they think of buying shoplifted goods which is against the law and morally wrong, the customers say, “We are not doing anything wrong. We are not stealing. We pay for these items. They are the ones stealing, not us.”
The shop owners say that the critical hours for shoplifters to strike are 1pm, 6pm, and the opening hours when the salesladies are busy with the displays. One shop owner has installed 10 CCTV units in his store but because of the huge area and because there are just too many people at any given time, they just cannot monitor everything that’s going on in the store.
Shoplifters usually dress decently, and when apprehended, they do not give their real names and addresses. Even if shop owners have their pictures, their names, their addresses, they cannot be traced once they disappear after posting bail. But expect them to be back after a month or two.
Most of these shoplifters are not jailed even when apprehended because they post bail at the precinct. Most of them carry enough money for bail just in case they are caught. Shoplifters have financers. A financer buys all the shoplifted goods in wholesale. A shoplifter can provide financers with items worth Php50,000 a day. With a good financer behind the shoplifters, they are properly organized. Most of them would work in 2 groups with 5 to 7 members each, they would rent a van, and would dress accordingly. Full dress or skirt for crotch-walking or some decent attire for other systems they employ. Once in the store, the members of the group spread out and check the locations of the CCTV units before they strike.
Hilda had financed shoplifters before. She made a lot of money by investing in shoplifting operations. She bought their stuff wholesale and made a killing when the items were sold. It was easy to sell shoplifted goods in her neighborhood.
When asked how she slept at night knowing that she was engaged in the business of stealing, she said, “I am not the one stealing. I don’t care about their stealing. I sleep well at night.”
Now, Hilda has stopped financing the shoplifters. She has been losing money when arrests become frequent and she has to keep posting bail.
Toto is a 12-year-old boy who lifts cellphones, watches, and clothes with ease. He says he has learned shoplifting at the age of nine. He can quickly lift items from open display cabinets. He is so jaded, he just doesn’t seem to care anymore that shoplifting is wrong. There is even a hint of pride in his voice.
Toto says that his parents know about his stealing. Just like any other working Filipino children, he gives his “hard-earned” money to his parents to buy rice and other food.
By the way, the man in the beginning of the documentary who stole a 35-peso canned good, had been freed from jail and promptly stole again. He had been in and out of prison for shoplifting. Of course, he would always justify his actions by saying that he stole to feed his starving children. Really?
Quo vadis, Pinoy?