"The key to shoplifting," explained Nick, a 30-year-old attorney, "is pretending like you own the item." Two weeks earlier, Nick (not his real name) walked into a local Fred Meyer to pick up photos he had developed there. "They asked if I wanted to pay at the photo counter or the check-out," he explained. "That's when I realized I could just walk out with the film."

Nick proceeded to buy an apple and walk through the check-out line. When the cashier asked if there was anything else, he said no. At all times, the photos were in plain sight.

The clean-cut Nick shoplifts little items now and again--apples, magazines, photos, avocados. "They always believe me," he said, flashing Eddie Haskell dimples.

For the past few weeks, the Mercury has tracked shoplifting around the city. A survey of police records found more than a dozen incidents reported on a weekly basis--at least the ones caught red-handed. Security experts estimate one million occurrences daily in America. Hoping to find insights into the Rose City's teeming world of five finger discounts, we caught up with a group of regular shoplifters.

We met the "shoppers" at their Northwest apartment. Their motivation? To live beyond their means--and, with a dash of self-glorifying anarchy.

"Whenever you buy something," 19-year-old Emily informed us, "they're stealing from you."

However, it's estimated that shoplifting costs retail stores in America $20 billion annually. While local storeowners refused to speak with the Mercury, security experts were able to roughly sketch the outlines of the crime's impact. On average, retail stores suffer two percent of gross sales in losses to shoplifting.

With the Mercury in tow, Zach, another shopper, shows us what he means by the "drop-and-shop" technique. Once in the grocery store, hidden between the rows of organic food-stuffs, he lifts his shirt and drops out a shopping bag with the store's logo. From here, he begins "shopping," picking up a bottle of champagne and reaching for salmon steaks. Meanwhile, his friend explains the "belt-tuck" technique, slipping a healthy-sized steak into the front of her pants. "All you boys know about this one," she snickers.

After picking out a hundred-plus dollars of gourmet food, they simply walk out. They've been at it for the past year and haven't been caught...yet. Next week: Getting caught..