Everyone needs a little boost to beat the holiday blues. For some during a down economy, it's shoplifting.
Retailers call it "shrinkage," the loss of inventory from the store shelves or storage from sticky-fingered shoppers and employees. The total cost to retailers last year was $112 billion, including losses from employee and supplier fraud, and organized retail crime gangs, according to the 2012-2013 Global Retail Theft Barometer.
And it goes up during the holidays, but not because thieves are trying to make Santa's bag bigger. Experts say that most thieves are in it for themselves.
The thought going through a shoplifter's head is simple: "This is the time of year when we gift others, so we should gift ourselves as well," said Robert McCrie, a professor of security management. "People tend to shoplift for themselves, not to find gifts for other people."
According to an analysis of the most recently available FBI data, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on behalf of NBC News, national shoplifting arrests averaged 80,889 during November and December 2011, an 8.95 percent increase over the prior two months, and higher than the non-seasonal average of 71,073 offenses. Previous years saw increases in shoplifting offenses during the holidays as well, with a 5.27 percent increase during the same period in 2009 and a 7.25 percent increase in 2007.
The number of actual shoplifting attempts is likely higher. "The activity of engaging the police in an arrest, as opposed to simply photographing and releasing the shoplifter, sans goods, may be a difficult choice in a busy holiday retail situation," said Margaret Smith, a John Jay research associate.
And as the economy weakened, shoplifting increased. From 2005 to 2012, annual shoplifting offenses rose from 698,233 to 997,739, according to the FBI, a nearly 43 percent increase.
(Read more: Returning Xmas gifts? Better hurry up!)
Experts say that most shoplifters know what they're doing isn't right, but are compelled to steal anyway.
"The vast majority of people who shoplift do it out of personal issues," said Barbara Staib of the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, or NASP. "Maybe a distorted sense of entitlement... they see an opportunity, they find a convenient excuse."