Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Shoplifters Take ‘Hobby’ Online

As Moscow stores see a surge in shoplifting ahead of the New Year’s holidays, at least part of their problems can be traced to an unlikely source: a LiveJournal community of dedicated shoplifters.
A successfully stolen lipstick or eyelash mascara provides a rush of euphoria, said Yulia, a 30-year-old Moscow journalist and amateur shoplifter who blogs about her adventures on the LiveJournal community, whose Russian name, which contains an obscenity, could be loosely translated as “Snatch It and You Are Happy.”
Yulia and other members of the community — who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of arrest — said they do not steal because of the economic crisis or a lack of money but rather as a hobby. They go online to boast of their booty and share their shoplifting techniques.
“I can buy everything that I obtain from this hobby without hurting my wallet,” said Alexander, a 26-year-old Moscow sales manager who has shoplifted for the past five years.
Shoplifting is a major problem at any time of the year, with many stores mounting surveillance cameras on the ceilings and posting security guards by the exits, but the issue grows more acute ahead of New Year’s, some retailers said.
The supermarket chain Pyatyorochka sees a 10 percent jump in shoplifting ahead of New Year’s in its stores in Moscow and other cities, said Svetlana Vitkovskaya, a spokeswoman for the chain’s parent company, X5 Retail Group.
She had no precise figures for stolen goods for previous years and said this year’s figures would be available in January.
The supermarket chain Sedmoi Kontinent refused to comment altogether about shoplifting and several other major stores didn’t return requests for comment.
Police do not keep statistics on shoplifting but lump all thefts together, said city police spokeswoman Svetlana Serkina.
The Criminal Code imposes a punishment of up to two years in prison for shoplifting.
Yulia, who first shoplifted as a teen by taking a can of stewed fruit, said she steals for the adrenalin rush or to lift her spirits when she is stressed out.
But she insisted that she would not join pre-New Year’s shoplifters this year in pilfering merchandise — or at least until Dec. 31.
“I am a fan of snatching cosmetics. I have not used up what I previously stole,” Yulia told The Moscow Times by e-mail.
Alexander, the Moscow sales manager, said by e-mail that he views the thefts as “interesting entertainment” that “detects the shortfalls of a store’s security system.”
He said his friends expressed disapproval when they first learned about his activities, but after a while they started begging him to share techniques in order to shoplift themselves.
Sergei, a 37-year-old engineer, said he steals for “pleasure” and then gives away the loot, usually ashtrays and dishes from restaurants. He said he once slipped a beer mug into the bag of an unwitting girlfriend at a cafe.
Yulia said she honed her stealing skills by snatching tomatoes, tangerines and even garlic from outdoor market stalls when she was a student.
Alexander said he mostly stole clothes and expensive alcohol, as well as “useless little things.”
LiveJournal members said they were not afraid of getting arrested.
Sergei said he has never gotten caught, while Yulia has been caught twice but managed to avoid arrest. The first time, shop managers felt sorry for Yulia because she was a minor, and the second time she sweet-talked a policeman into letting her go after store security guards caught her making off with two bottles of hand and face lotion, she said.
Police officials could not be reached for comment on the activities of the LiveJournal community Monday. Serkina, the police spokeswoman, directed inquiries to Moscow police’s criminal investigation department, which in turn referred a reporter to the Interior Ministry’s department fighting high-tech crimes. Repeated calls to the department went unanswered, and the ministry’s press service did not reply to a faxed request for comment.
Although members of the LiveJournal community boast about their exploits on the Internet, many voiced reluctance and even hostility about talking to a reporter, even on condition of anonymity, saying they did not want to attract attention to their community for fear of being tracked down by the police. A reporter who posted an interview request on the community’s blog received a flood of angry replies, including many containing obscenities. “You’ll rat on us and reveal all our tricks,” wrote a user with the nickname Perlinnoise.
Father Ioasaf, a senior clergyman at Moscow’s Zaikonospassky Monastery, said shoplifting was not a hobby but “an expression of a particular frame of mind — wickedness.”
He said shoplifting violated one of the Ten Commandments — “Thou shalt not steal” — and the LiveJournal members were “disseminating evil.”
“Apparently, these people have not known God’s love,” he said.

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