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Common Characteristics of Historical Records Thieves

A review of about 400 documented incidents of archival theft reveals some common characteristics. None of these characteristics by themselves is cause for concern, and keep in mind that some historical records thieves will fall outside these patterns.

If you notice Warning Signs in the behavior of an individual who shares some of the common demographic characteristics below, you may need to monitor the person’s actions and be prepared to take further action (see Discovery and Response). 

All historical records repositories

(Archives, historical societies, libraries, museums, and governments)

  • 50% of the thieves were insiders (repository staff or volunteers)
  • 40% of the thieves were researchers
  • Most thieves were white males

Archives and historical societies only

  • 48% of the thieves were insiders (repository staff or volunteers)
  • 52% of the thieves were researchers

Insider thieves (employee, board member or volunteer)

  • Likely to be middle to upper-middle class
  • Likely to be married or in a long-term relationship; may have children
  • Likely to demonstrate substantial expertise and/or receive professional recognition in a field of research
  • Likely to collect or sell related items
  • Have relatively broad access to collections

Researcher thieves

  • Likely to be middle class
  • Likely to collect items in highly specific subject area
  • May demonstrate moderate expertise in specific area
  • May feign or demonstrate unfamiliarity with standard research practices and concepts