Stealing, Shoplifting, Employee Theft (kleptomania)

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Kleptomania is an irresistible urge, or compulsion, to steal. The act of theft means more than either the value or the usefulness of the item. Shoplifters are often caught with the money to purchase the stolen goods on them – they had the funds to pay, but they needed to steal.

Learn More about Shoplifting, Kleptomaniacy, and Treatment Options

The word comes from the root klepto – meaning ‘to steal’, and mania – ‘madness’. It has been recognized as a medical problem in the US since the 1960s.

Symptoms of kleptomaniacy

Kleptomaniacs will usually show these symptoms:

  • A compulsion to steal items that aren’t really wanted or needed. Sometimes, after the theft, the stolen property is abandoned or given away.
  • There is a cycle that starts with an increase of tension before the theft. This may include a feeling of transporting “out of myself” as if in a surreal state.
  • The cycle continues with pleasure when the theft has occurred, and a rush of excitement and adrenaline.
  • There then follows a ‘crash’ that includes feelings of guilt and lowered self-esteem. Sometimes, stolen property is thrown away, donated, given to friends, or even returned to the original owner – all meant to relieve guilt.

Employee theft

Those with an impulse to steal are often opportunists. They steal when the urge arises and where they are able. This means that a significant amount of employee theft may be related to kleptomania.

Terrence Shulman, author of Biting the Hand that Feeds and Something for Nothing, lists some disturbing statistics about theft in the US:1

  • One out of every 30 employees is apprehended for theft (2008)
  • 75% of employees have taken something from their place of employment without authorization.
  • 55% of employee theft is from manager level (by dollar amount).
  • Businesses lose 20% of every dollar of profit to employee theft.
  • Employee theft that is compulsive may be related to boredom, depression, revenge, or ease of access. When it is the result of kleptomania, the same triggers and cycles as shoplifting appear.


  1. 1The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft and Spending
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