The towel thief is more likely to be a tourist than a business traveler. He is more apt to hit a Holiday Inn than a Hilton. He steals more on weekends than on weekdays. More in the summer than the winter. He does it for the thrill of it, not because he needs another towel. He takes more bath towels than washcloths. And he is more likely to take beige than white.

That profile of the typical towel thief emerged after interviews with more than a dozen housekeepers, managers and a psychologist. They all believe they have a pretty good idea what the culprit looks like, but can't agree on the motive.

*One theory says that people steal towels because of a hotel's logo or the name of a city -- the towels are souvenirs. (The number of towels taken from the Crystal City Hyatt, for example, declined after they stopped using the hotel's name.)

Another theory says that people steal towels so they won't have to buy them for their homes. To discourage theft, then, you should put writing and logos on the towels because people wouldn't want to see "LaGuardia Airport Mariott" in their own bathroom.

And color makes a big difference. "They really take the beige," says Dimple Miller, executive housekeeper at the Best Western Thunderbird Motel in Bloomington, Minn. "It was a disaster when we switched to beige."

Although there are no scientific studies on precisely why we take towels, New York consumer psychologist Joseph Smith has a hunch that it may be simply for the thrill of it.

"It's an illicit act," he says, "but a safe one. It gives you all the excitement of a bank robbery without the downside risk."

Which means that while you are checking out of the hotel with the bath towel tucked inside your overnight bag, your pulse is likely to increase, you will probably sweat a little and have a sense of giddiness and excitement.

"For those of us who live lives of quiet white-collar desperation," says Smith, "it is moving us out to the edge of excitement."