Shoplifters make off with more than $8 billion worth of merchandise every year, stealing more in six months "than the total dollars stolen by all the bank robbers in the United States over the last 200 years," a new study reports. The survey by Lawrence Connor, executive director of Shoplifters Anonymous, concludes that most of the theft -- $5 billion -- is by amateurs who tried it once, "acquired a taste for free merchandise and developed a stealing habit ranging from once a day to once a month." In short, they became addicted. Connor studied 900 shoplifters arrested in Delaware County, Pa., and referred to his program by the courts. "This is the only habit in existence where somebody else pays for it," he said. "It has all the ingredients for popularization." He said addicts usually avoid arrest because of a "generally law-abiding" appearance that tends to convince shopkeepers to let them off with a warning. And while they come from every age group, race and background, they share certain characteristics: they generally steal items worth less than $20, and they have enough cash or credit cards to pay. In fact, when caught, they immediately offer to do so. They attempt, often successfully, to convince the merchant they are reputable citizens. "Ironically," said Connor, "they are almost unanimous in their belief that the courts are too lenient on criminals, particularly those who repeat crimes. These people do not consider themselves thieves or criminals."