Shoplifting costs U.S. businesses more than $30 billion a year, but studies show it remains an underreported crime — and one on the rise in the wake of an improving economy. While people seem to be drawn to more “ethical stealing” during a recession, one explanation for the rise in theft, says Rachel Shteir, author of the new book The Steal, is that people feel less guilty for shoplifting when they see the excess of celebrities and other wealthy people.
In a sense, people think it’s fine to steal because it’s seems so trivial compared to what others have. Shteir’s book examines the cultural history of theft, from the first major trial of shoplifting in London in 1800 to the cases of celebrities like Winona Ryder. TIME spoke to Shteir about shoplifting’s causes and effects, the most popular products stolen each year and the best method to combat the crime.