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The Psychology of Theft – What Causes People to Steal?


Criminal psychology is a subject that has been covered in thousands of books, articles, studies and media publications. The subject itself is so large, that it’s nearly impossible to cover it in its entirety. However, in relation to home security, understanding some aspects of criminal psychology can help you to protect your home and family against criminals. The motivating factors in many crimes are fairly basic, relying on a certain mindset, or specific circumstances.

So, let’s evaluate a much more fundamental question – What Causes People to Steal? Of course, there are hundreds of different factors that could contribute to theft, but for our purposes, we should focus on some of the basic causes. Though each of these causes will not necessarily always lead to a theft, each should be recognized as a possible contributing factor.

Opportunity
The phrase “crime of opportunity” does have a basis in actual statistics. When a person sees an opportunity to commit a crime and gain an instant reward (such as a laptop sitting on the seat of a locked car), the chances increase that they will take that opportunity. Now, this isn’t to say that every time a person sees an opportunity commit a crime, that they will do it – it should simply be regarded as a contributing factor.

What You Can Do
To reduce the chances of being the victim of a “crime of opportunity”, it’s important to be mindful of your valuables at all times. Never leave laptops, GPS devices, smartphones or other valuable items in plain sight inside your vehicle. Always keep the windows of your residence closed and locked when you are not at home.

Poverty
Many people believe that crime rates are affected by the state of the economy. In our post, “Do Crime Rates Increase During Hard Economic Times?“, this topic was explored a bit more in-depth. However, a person’s level of poverty can have an influential effect on how likely they are to commit a crime. For example, if a man is having trouble making enough money to feed his family, he may resort to crime as an attempt to provide for them. If an individual has fallen on hard economic times, they may see theft as an easy way to make some quick cash.

What You Can Do
The best way to prevent crimes of this sort is to choose a home that is located in a low-crime, stable economic area. However, it’s still not possible to prevent poverty-related crimes completely. Take some time to volunteer in your community, which can have the added effect of improving the quality of life within your neighborhood. Neighborhood watch programs, community food banks and ‘time banking’ systems are all great programs to become involved in.

Anonymity
One of the most commonly cited factors that influences the likelihood that a person will commit a crime is anonymity. When an individual believes that they can commit a crime without getting caught, they are much more likely to steal. The fear of being exposed during a criminal act may be the sole factor that prevents a person from committing a crime.

What You Can Do
It is entirely possible to use the fear of being caught as a defensive tool against potential criminals. Install monitored security cameras around your home in visible locations (or dummy cameras, if you’re on a budget). If you have a monitored security system, place signs around your property alerting of your protected status. Adopt and train a guard dog to bark at any intruders on the property surrounding your home.