Helsinki taxi driver Pekka Ruhanen has not incurred any customers fleeing without paying. Two of his colleagues recently have been less fortunate.On the whole, Finns shoplift in shops and at petrol stations but typically pay for services already received diligently.

Customers taking off without paying are a problem especifically at petrol stations and in small grocery stores where, for example, beer is often stolen by just running out past the counter. In other lines of business this kind of activity is still unusual.

The sales director of the petrol station chain ST1 Juha Vanninen estimates that from their stations petrol is stolen thousands of times a year.

"Every day there are several incidents," he says.

According to Vanninen, the thieves cause losses of hundreds of thousands of euros for the company each year. Even though the perpetrators would get caught, according to Vanninen it is very exceptional to receive any payments afterwards.

"The perpetrators are usually habitual criminals whose compensations and fines are documented directly forward to recovery proceedings."

According to Vanninen, petrol thefts have grown since 2008 when the law was changed so that getting a fine could no longer be converted into a prison sentence. Around 50,000 shoplifting incidents take place in Finland yearly. However, leaving a taxi ride or a restaurant meal unpaid is unusual. Last year, 400 police reports of such acts were documented in Helsinki. They were usually labelled as petty frauds as the unpaid invoices were worth less than 500 euros. In the district of the Inner Finland Police Station in Pirkanmaa and Central Finland hundreds such police reports are documented yearly, most of them related to taxi fares.

Ride and run

According to the director of Taksiliitto (Taxi Union) Lauri Säynäjoki, it is significantly more common for a customer to admit they cannot pay the taxi once they have reached their destination than to do a runner and leave the scene without paying. Säynäjoki says that such customers usually pay for the taxi afterwards. Leaving the taxi ride unpaid may lead to the customer being fined. Recently two large taxi fares worth 170 and over 600 euros respectively were left unpaid. Both rides departed from Helsinki. One of them ended in Lahti, and the other in Kuopio.

At pharmacies, shoplifting often becomes apparent in the form of empty packages found hidden in different parts of the store. The most popular products among shoplifters are cosmetic, nutritional, and nicotine products.

"Whatever is most advertised at the time becomes the most wanted item among shoplifters. The products are usually worth over fifty euros," says pharmacist Markku Ylinen from Itäkeskus' Pharmacy in Helsinki.

A bitter pill to swallow

At Itäkeskus' Pharmacy, thefts are prevented often by removing certain products from the shelves. Shoplifting in pharmacies is most often discreet, according to Ylinen. Blatant thefts take place less often. He recalls a specific aggravated incident from last spring when a bagful of cod-liver oil containers disappeared from the entrance area right next to the door.

"These sort of thieves are precise in their approach and plan their visit very carefully. If the guard is not present at the time, he will be in a few minutes," Ylinen tells.

Even prescription drugs are not safe from theft. A customer typically receives prescription drugs along with a price receipt to be presented at the counter. Sometimes these receipts are found hidden between the shelves.

"In these incidents, the thief can easily be caught as a person with a prescription for drugs is already documented in our computer system with their address and social security number," Ylinen says.

The director of Matkailu- ja ravintolapalvelut Ry (Finnish Hospitality Association) Timo Lappi says that the so-called dine and dash incidents are very rare in restaurants.

"Finnish people are very honest in this regard," Lappi states.

Jyri Hänninen, Tiia-Maria Juuso, Tuija Sorjanen – HS
Mari Storpellinen – HT 
Image: Markus Jokela