"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