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Battling the surge in elderly shoplifters

19 Comments

"What if it was one of your parents?" asks Sunday Mainichi (Nov 29). The reference is to shoplifting by people over age 65, which has surged over the past decade.

"I'm by myself and feel uneasy about the future. So I tried as much as possible to refrain from spending money."

These words, spoken while dabbing at her eyes with a lace handkerchief, were offered by the 68-year-old defendant at the Tokyo Court of Small Claims last September. In late June of this year, she was charged with having attempted to pilfer 17 items of food and apparel with a total value of 10,536 yen.

When apprehended outside the supermarket, she had 6,630 yen on her person. Despite the offered pretexts of being "anxious over the future" or "money has become important," this lady appeared to be reasonably well off. In addition to a monthly pension of about 90,000 yen, she received income from a rental apartment, raising her monthly total to around 200,000 yen.

This particular session marked the woman's eighth occasion to have been nabbed. In February 2014, she was fined 300,000 yen by the Tokyo Small Claims Court. Last September, she was back in the dock for her first criminal trial.

According to data from the National Police Agency, the percentage of shoplifting cases nationwide that resulted in criminal prosecutions of individuals age 65 and over rose from 18.3% of the total in 2004 to 32.7% in 2013. Last year's 20,667 cases, moreover, surpassed the second largest demographic -- teens from age 14 to 19 -- which declined from 34.5% to 19.6% over the same 10-year period.

Some argue that the increase might be because spotting an elderly person in the act of stealing tends to be easier than a teen. Or, the magazine suggests, it may be that those juvenile delinquents of yore have just matured and become senior delinquents.

In any case, theft poses a real problem for retailers. According to a Shinjuku-based NPO that works to discourage shoplifting, annual losses nationwide are estimated at approximately 460 billion yen -- a figure at least 10 times higher that the amount lost by victims of the notorious "it's me, send money" swindles.

"Some retailers don't want to spend the time or trouble dealing with it, so I suppose the actual losses are actually higher," says Ko Fukui, secretariat of the National Shoplifting Prevention Organization. "But shoplifting can be a life-or-death problem for retailers, and they need to reconsider the problem. We want to treat shoplifting as a crime."

"I suppose that many elderly people are feeling lonely and want someone to care about them," Fukui adds. "That can be a major factor. Rather than just react, more efforts are needed to get to the root of the problem."

Needless to say, having an elderly parent nabbed for thievery can be rough on the offspring. Ryoko Uemura (a pseudonym), 36, recalled when her dad got busted. While at her part-time job, her mobile phone rang. The caller, the local police station, informed her that her father had been caught attempting to steal a 450-yen boxed meal from a supermarket. "The cash registers were all crowded," he'd explained. He had 5,000 yen in his wallet.

While looking after his sick wife from two years ago, Uemura's father had taken to drink, and had little else to keep himself occupied, except to play pachinko.

"My father had always been 'baka majime' (honest to the extreme)," Uemura told the magazine. "He worked for a local company for 40 years, and I supposed his pension and savings were sufficient..."

Soon afterwards, Uemura suffered an unexpected blowback from her father's misdeed. Other people where she worked began circulating word that she was the "child of a shoplifter" and she felt she had no choice but to quit. The loss of income was a blow to her family. She pondered bringing her father to move in with them, but now it seems her husband is disinclined to have a "criminal" living under the same roof.

Fortunately, some communities recognize the seriousness of the problem and have begun taking proactive measures. From April 2013 in Fukushima Prefecture, police began an outreach program that got members of seniors' clubs involved in combating shoplifting, and it's beginning to show results. In the first 10 months of this year, the prefecture's 310 prosecutions of elderly persons for shoplifting marked a 10% decline from the same period last year.

© Japan Today

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19 Comments
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“I suppose that many elderly people are feeling lonely and want someone to care about them,” Fukui adds. “That can be a major factor. Rather than just react, more efforts are needed to get to the root of the problem.”

There is a sense of entitlement that comes with age too and while the overwhelming majority of people are honest, just because the person is elderly does not automatically make them a saint or blessed with higher morals. I would bet that many did similar things when they were growing up, particularly in the era following WWII to survive.

From April 2013 in Fukushima Prefecture, police began an outreach program that got members of seniors’ clubs involved in combating shoplifting, and it’s beginning to show results. In the first 10 months of this year, the prefecture’s 310 prosecutions of elderly persons for shoplifting marked a 10% decline from the same period last year.

Which means, in Fukushima, there are still nearly 280 seniors being prosecuted for shoplifting every year, and it took nearly two years of this outreach program's work to show a decline of 10%.

Not trying to sound bad here, but just how many of those 10% are still alive or capable of "theft"? Statistics can be skewed to make something sound like it's working. The proof is in the details and not just the numbers.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

It is an act of desperation in a time of rising taxes,,, however, there are plenty of elderly I see every day who seem to have a strong sense of entitlement...

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

There are many reasons for this. Entitlement is one, but also poverty or emergencies that wipe out a person's savings or pensions lost through no fault of the pensioner's.

Not to mention the decades long recession that has made a comeback.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

The caller, the local police station, informed her that her father had been caught attempting to steal a 450-yen boxed meal from a supermarket. “The cash registers were all crowded,” he’d explained. He had 5,000 yen in his wallet.>

I actually see this happen a lot with the elderly in Japan. They simply walk to the front of the queue in a convenience store and then pretend that they didn't notice the 10 people waiting.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Soon afterwards, Uemura suffered an unexpected blowback from her father’s misdeed. Other people where she worked began circulating word that she was the “child of a shoplifter” and she felt she had no choice but to quit.

Constructive dismissal.

Sue.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I have known of small businesses going under due to shoplifting.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Husband sounds like a nasty piece of work....

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I want to be baka majime. Poor oldies who can't make ends meet after a life of toil. I remember in my youth the signs in corner shops about "no more than 2 school children at a time" designed to cut down on shoplifting. soon will be "no more than two pensioners in the shop at any one time",

2 ( +4 / -2 )

"Soon afterwards, Uemura suffered an unexpected blowback from her father’s misdeed. Other people where she worked began circulating word that she was the “child of a shoplifter” and she felt she had no choice but to quit."

What a joke. Anyone bad mouths my pops and I would punch him in the nose real quick.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

What a joke. Anyone bad mouths my pops and I would punch him in the nose real quick.

Why do you feel resorting to violence for someone talking about the truth? Standing up for one's own is the right thing to do, of course, yet you suggest that telling the truth is reason to resort to violence to defend a criminal?

Who is in the wrong?

The gossiping is not right either, and yet she did not handle the situation the way she could have either, she made the choice to run. Like many things in Japan, families are "guilty" by association, yet one way to battle this type of gossip and rumor mongering would have been for her to stand up and say YES, my dad did this! There is no need to take responsibility for what one's parents or relatives do, it's their lives.

But seeing as how this is Japan, the inevitable happened, and the daughter responded in kind instead of trying to find a way to stop it, she made the choice to run too.

BTW you bad my my Dad for something he didnt do, I'll knee-cap the sucker! But if he did it, I am not going to bend over backward to defend him. It's his choice, his life, and what he did has nothing to do with me. I'll still love him, and still admit he is my father but I will not apologize nor take responsibility for his misdeeds.

Dont like it. FIne, I dont care, don't agree, cool, that's your choice. But I respect you for it, even though I dont agree.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

It is an act of desperation in a time of rising taxes,,, however, there are plenty of elderly I see every day who seem to have a strong sense of entitlement..

Why was Reckless downvoted? He's right on the money. It's a combination of post-retirement poverty, only exacerbated by the tax hike & ever-increasing cost of living, an overwhelming sense of entitlement borne from decades in a patriarchal society & total disregard for others.

I had genuine respect for the elderly - till I moved to Japan.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Why was Reckless downvoted?

Please do NOT ever care or even pay attention to the "good" or "bad" "votes!. They come out of stupidity and ignorance and are based upon emotion rather than any conscious thought.

JT members WILL vote anything and everything down based upon the poster and not the content.

Let it go, and think of it this way, either up or down, the person voting either way is at least reading the post and THAT is all that matters!

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

@ Yubaru

Anything that bashes Japan and praises western thinking is also up voted. Half the people on here must be newbies to Japan

1 ( +7 / -6 )

Soon afterwards, Uemura suffered an unexpected blowback from her father’s misdeed. Other people where she worked began circulating word that she was the “child of a shoplifter” and she felt she had no choice but to quit.

Personal damage control. You can't blame people for gossiping... people need to learn how to deal with it.

It might have hurt her pride, but jokingly throwing him under the bus could have easily dissolved the whole thing. It might hurt denouncing your own dad, but she chose not to swallow her own pride and deal with the situation - nobody fired her, but she let it get to her and quit.

A stupid bashful response and business as usual until the next screw up by somebody.

"Ah man I can't believe what my dad did..what a goof... and only a 500 yen bento!? Why didn't he at least go for the 1000 yen sushi!" Or more apologetic "I am so ashamed, I can't believe it. He must be getting senile..."

3 ( +4 / -1 )

There are hundreds of different factors that could contribute to shoplifting and the two most common reason is economic and emotional. However there could be a link to various mental disorders that may be what prompts some elderly people to begin shoplifting. As you get older the nervous system can be impaired by Alzheimer disease, stress or other organic, degenerative disease and even some medication. Also as people get older their are fears of aging, loneliness, becoming sad and the loss of parents, siblings, and friends. Unfortunately in some cases the inability to cope with all these changes, adjustments and challenges can led to psychiatric problems with depression and other forms of disturbed behavior such a theft.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

For some people shop lifting is a disease, like being an alcoholic. I grew up in a comfortable neighborhood in the States. Many years ago my mother and a woman in the neighborhood went to the mall to go shopping. The neighbor got caught for shoplifting...she didn't need anything that she stole. Her husband was an engineer, and they lived in the biggest house in the neighborhood. She was also the daughter of a mayor of a big Asian city.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I'm with those who believe this is a sign of a mental problem, or of early Alzheimer's. When normally honest people steal, it's a sign of serious mental disturbance, and should be treated as a psychiatric issue rather than a crime. Time the mental health services (such as they are) got a grip on this, rather than it being used to boost police arrest quotas.

As for the poor woman who was hounded out of her job, it's a disgrace and her employers should be sued. The idea that the sins of the fathers should be visited on the children is iron-age logic and has no place in our modern and supposedly more well-informed age.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

"No seniors allowed" signs. It should work like a charm, just like the "No foreigners allowed" signs.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I once worked with this fine Japanese lady and she told me she was desperate because she was about to be retired by force by the company, with a 60,000 pension. I understand these old people, but I don't aprove, of course

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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