In these desperate times, even basic necessities like groceries are becoming a luxury for more and more New Yorkers. Thankfully, there's a way to adapt to a reduced income without sacrificing your appetite—assuming you don't have any ethical qualms about theft. One local freelancer who often subsists on a very limited budget has for years eaten like a gourmand by stealing groceries from fine supermarkets. This person agreed to speak with us on the condition of anonymity, for obvious reasons, and shared some invaluable tips for hungry shoppers in search the best five finger discounts in town.
How often do you shoplift? I used to do it very often, almost every day. Now it’s a little less.
How many times a week? Maybe twice a week.
Where do you usually hit? I have a few rotations with Whole Foods, one of the main targets because I’ve figured out the structure, the infrastructure of the place.
You’ve figured out the infrastructure? Correct. I call them blind spots, there are a lot of blind spots.
Okay, I want to talk about your technique in a minute. But where else do you boost? Key Foods occasionally, and then if something is on my way and I want to employ the more improvisational style, I can do that.
What's the average dollar amount of your shoplifting haul per week? $100
What's the biggest score you've made at Whole Foods? Over $50 in one day. I don't remember the exact dollar amount but it was three pounds of wild tuna, two pounds cod fish, one pound of walnuts, three pieces of brie cheese, four carry-on bags of pre-made sushi, one bottle of the best quality Italian olive oil.
What is your ethnicity? I am not American.
Okay, but what do you look like? I am very attractive, very dynamic and full of life and a hopeful future.
Have you ever been caught? I came close once, but I managed to unload the goods before they approached me and I played it out because I knew it was no longer in my bag. They didn’t see me taking it out but they clearly saw me putting it in, so I created a huge scene. I called the manager and I was screaming that I was outraged and so forth.
You flipped it on them? Absolutely. I didn’t appreciate the fact that they took me for a non-professional.
How did you know they were on to you? Just experience. I’ve been doing this for close to six, seven years already, so you get that sense. Even if they don’t look at you directly, it’s the fraction of a second that you feel it.
Do you think the secret to your success is your experience? That’s a part of it, that’s an aspect to it. The second aspect is that it’s out of necessity. This is not for pleasure; you do this because you need to be healthy to continue with your job and your career and maintain yourself in good shape. Because it has a practical application, it adds to the confidence and adds to the purpose and that’s ultimately why it’s a successful adventure.
Do you remember the first thing you shoplifted? Of course, it was a sausage. It was a really expensive sausage that I put under my pants.
You say it’s a necessity, so you don’t feel any moral guilt about stealing? Absolutely not, it’s a job like any other job; it requires professionalism, requires effort, requires time. It’s not an easy thing. And there's a certain amount of risk, like any venture that you get into, any business you get into.
Do you have any advice for aspiring shoplifters? Yes. First, choose your locations carefully, number one. Don't start right away, go there several times, walk around, get to know the people who work there, especially the ones who don't dress in uniform. Number two, the most important: get to know the camera system. You don’t want to be directly under the camera, you don’t want to be in front of the camera, you want to find blind spots, this is my technical term. Beyond the corner or the bottom reach of the camera.
Number three, always have an exit strategy. Meaning put things in different places, in your pocket or under your pants. Don’t do it right away. First you take the item and walk with it for a little bit. Then when the moment is right and the inspiration is correct, you put it in there. And you don’t run away right away, you stay and shop in the store for awhile until the energy comes down and then you calmly walk out. But the bottom line is don’t rush, don’t rush.
So you’ll pick up something at one part of a store but you won’t immediately put it in your coat until a different part of the store? Exactly, it comes from experience. There’s an energy climax and you feel it. When you’re not ready, when you’re afraid or you’re unsure, this is the wrong time to do it, you’ll definitely get caught. You have a fraction of a second when you know what needs to be done and you do it at that moment.
What about alarm systems? Well, groceries never trigger alarms and I usually keep my criminal activities around grocery stores. But I have done a few things with alarm systems; there is a technique to it. There are some stores in which alarms just go on occasionally and the guard and the employees get tired of it. So there are places that are safer to do it. If you do it and get caught somewhere with an alarm system you have to play it as cool as you can and just look really puzzled and come back and so forth. In that situation you have to make the best out of it.
Do you have a plan if you’re caught? Yes. You have to say that you have a lot of money and you're clearly not intending to steal; it was kind of a drunk bet you made with your friend about stealing a sausage from a supermarket. And you apologize and hope for the best.
Are there any places you’re afraid to shoplift? Grocery stores near my home. It’s not necessarily that I’m afraid, it’s just they know me too well and you know there’s a good saying: Don’t cut the tree branch you’re sitting on.