Shoplifting Confessions

A Life of Crime?

"My wife and I are professional shoplifters," says Allen.

"Every month, we make about $10,000, about $100,000 a year," adds his spouse, Laura. She says they've amassed nearly $1 million in stolen goods over the past seven years.


The couple says they pilfer smaller items such as diapers, shoes and socks, but also nab big-ticket merchandise like desks, computers and televisions. Allen gestures to a lawn mower. "This one wasn't locked up, so I took the plates off the car, threw it in the back of the car, and I got a new lawn mower," he says proudly.

"We've traveled to Nevada, Arizona, North Dakota, South Dakota, because if we kept it all in our area, people would obviously start to recognize us. That's how we became so successful," Laura says.

Allen reveals some of his biggest scams. "I have some pants that have pockets down at the bottom, and I would keep the actual store bags that they use. We would get somewhere where I know the camera is not looking, quickly put stuff in bags and just go out so it looks like we paid for it," he explains. "The other time is what we call ‘buy one, get one' where my wife and I would go into a retail store. She would go in first and buy the item. She would have her receipt, she would hand me the receipt, and I would go get the same exact item, and I would walk out with it. If I would get stopped at the door, I would have my receipt right there. What are you going to do about it?"

Recently, the shoplifting spouses videotaped on the road. "I didn't really want to go on this trip, but we needed the money right now. It's well planned. We mapped out 20 [stores], but depending on how the kids get, we'll stay today and tomorrow and probably come home on Sunday," Laura says.

While Matthew makes his rounds at the stores, Laura sits in the car with their three children  "I'm a little nervous just waiting for him, not knowing what's going to go on, but I try to keep my eye out if I see any police officers," she says. "I just call him, and he stops what he does."

Back in the car, Matthew says, "It's easy money."

"Like how much money so far?"

"Probably about $600 or $700," he replies. "Mostly LEGO stuff."

After three stores, Laura shows off the bounty in the trunk. "The trunk is almost full," she says, displaying boxes of games.


In the deepening twilight, she recounts, "Right now it is about 7:00 on Friday. We are at our 10th store. We mailed five to 10 boxes home already." 

On Saturday, the couple is back on the road. "We are at our third store for the morning. I think so far we have about $4,000 or $5,000 worth of stuff," Laura says.

The next day, they amass even more stolen goods. "It's about 1:00. We are at our 27th store, and now we'll head home. We still have about a five-hour drive," Laura says.

"Why do you do this?" Dr. Phil asks the couple. "Why this instead of getting a job like the rest of us?"

"I think when I first started out, it was just something that was little. I had a job. I needed a little extra money, so I would do a job or something that was on a very, very small scale," Allen replies.

"When you say ‘do a job,' you mean a theft job?" Dr. Phil inquires.

"Yes," he answers. "As times got a little tougher and business was starting to go down, I began doing a little bit more to catch up on bills, car payments."
"Let's talk about the first time, because you said, ‘I was a little short on money.' Most of us would either work harder, or get a second job or cut back on expenses, and you chose to steal," Dr. Phil says. "What was your thought process in deciding, ‘I need a little extra money. I'll just go steal it'?"

"Whether I steal a piece of clothing or candy, it's the same as if I go out and steal $100 worth of items. Stealing is stealing. It doesn't matter," Allen says.

Dr. Phil turns to Laura. "You're right in there with him. In fact, you say, ‘We're professional shoplifters. We're the most successful shoplifters on the West Coast,'" Dr. Phil says. "Are you proud of that?"

"No, I'm not," she replies.

"It sounds like you are," Dr. Phil says.

"I'm definitely not proud of it," she says. She mentions that she and Allen received a wake-up call when a detective came to their home. "I guess now that I know that I'm in trouble."

"Do you know it's wrong?"

"Definitely, I know it's wrong," she replies.

"You describe yourself as a kleptomaniac," Dr. Phil says to Laura. "That's not right, by the way. You don't have any characteristics of a kleptomaniac. You have the characteristics of a professional thief."

"I live full time on it," Allen agrees.

Dr. Phil turns to Laura. "You say you're never scared. You say, ‘I'm not nervous when I walk out the door, because I know I'm not going to get caught.' How do you know that? Have you ever been caught?"

"No," she replies.

Dr. Phil turns to Allen. "Do you ever get scared?"

"I think more recently, I've been more scared, but in the past, no, I haven't been," he replies.

"You have a lot of stolen property right now, right?"

"Our whole house, pretty much," Laura says.

"You made a multi-state run, so you're transporting stolen goods across state lines to the tune of thousands. I'm no lawyer or a cop, but isn't that a federal crime?" Dr. Phil asks.

"Yeah, it is," Laura says.

"Why are you here?" Dr. Phil asks.

"Putting it out in the open and knowing that everybody has seen us now, it will help us to not want to go to the stores, because we're going to feel like they're going to recognize us now. I think it's something to help us to stop, because my cover's blown," Allen says.

"You'd better stop this, and you'd better stop it right now," Dr. Phil says sternly. "They're going to burn you down. They're going to catch you. When they understand the scope, nature and repeated pattern here, it's not going to go well."

Dr. Phil turns to Laura. "You make $100,000 a year, you have no job, and you have three children. What's going to happen to those children if both of their parents go to jail?"

"We're going to lose them," she says, voice quavering.

Dr. Phil turns to Chris McGoey, a security expert hired by stores to conduct research on theft prevention. "What do you make of this situation?" Dr. Phil asks.

"I've heard this story before. They're definitely professional shoplifters. They're not operating on impulse control. I hear no remorse either," Chris replies. He turns to the couple. "Going to prison would get your attention, I think, very quickly. You're putting people out of work. People are losing jobs. You're committing multiple felonies."

"If [they] got indicted, it would probably be " what? " a several hundred count indictment?" Dr. Phil asks.

"Thousands," Chris says.

"Has there not been a time where you've really thought this through like we're thinking it through right now?" Dr. Phil asks the couple.

"We just thought we could do it forever and never get caught," Laura says.

"If you think you have a defense for kleptomania, you don't," Dr. Phil says. "Kleptomania is a rare condition that appears in less than five percent of identified shoplifters."

Dr. Phil explains how a professional shoplifter differs from a kleptomaniac: A professional shoplifter often steals for profit for an illegitimate business. A kleptomaniac can't resist the urge to steal, regardless of the monetary value, and he or she steals for a feeling of gratification and relief. A professional shoplifter steals valuable items in great quantities, whereas a kleptomaniac steals objects of little value. A professional shoplifter has plans to get away with stealing, whereas kleptomaniacs usually don't plan their theft. A professional shoplifter often steals with others, but a kleptomaniac steals on his or her own without assistance from others.

"I didn't really see myself as a klepto," Allen says. "I knew what I was doing. I did it for the profit."

"Are you just lazy?" Dr. Phil asks.

"Probably," he replies.