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N4T Investigators: Online shopping obsession

TUCSON – Black Friday is four days away, Cyber Monday is a week away. It’s the most dangerous time of year for compulsive shoppers. And the boom in online shopping is a big part of it.

Online shopping has never been easier or faster.  Merchants like Amazon store your payment information and address and spending is a click away.  An estimated 5-9% of Americans have compulsive shopping disorders. They lead to big problems and large credit card balances.

“I can think at some points in time it was well into the six figures,” says a woman using the name “Kate.” She did not want to be identified; she is a successful local businesswoman.

“I grew up in a middle-class family but I always felt like I never had enough,” Kate told the News 4 Tucson Investigators. “There was definitely a high and an excitement,” when she bought things.

Kate says she spent on clothes, trips, yoga retreats and anything on sale. At one point, she thought her total credit card balance was $3000. It was $70,000.

“I felt like it wasn’t even real, like I could do it but then it became such an addiction that I would be ordering all this stuff.

We asked her what percent of the items she bought did she absolutely need. She said, “Zero.”

Her spending played a part in a break-up with a boyfriend when she lived in New York. “I would pay my doorman to hide packages and get them when my partner wasn’t home,” she said. “I had not one but four storage spaces in New Jersey that housed and hid all this stuff that I had purchased. And I realized the insanity of it all but I still kept shopping.”

The signs of compulsive shopping include:

-Spending more than you can afford.

-Buying things you don’t need.

-Lying about your shopping addiction to family and friends.

-Falling behind on bills.

Dr. Sabrina Helm,  an associate professor at the University of Arizona’s School of Retailing and Consumer Sciences, says compulsive shopping “is a growing problem. ” She says contributing factors to compulsive shopping are low self-control, low self-esteem, and a negative emotional state.  Helm says, “The negative effects are wide-ranging.”

Dr. Helm said, “If people start feeling social isolation because they don’t want to talk about their behavior, if they feel that they cannot stop that behavior, and they lost control over their lives or this particular aspect of it, then it’s very likely that professional help is the best way to go about this.”

Kate did get professional help, but credits her eight years of being “solvent” to the group “Debtors Anonymous”.  There are regular D.A. meetings in Tucson and Kate goes to one every day. Kate says without D.A., “I would have ended my life. I have found a lot of hope with other recovering people in Debtor’s Anonymous. You can recover from this addiction.”

Kate says she’s speaking for herself, not representing Debtor’s Anonymous. But she stresses that the group saved her life.  For more information on Debtor’s Anonymous and how to contact the group, click here.

If you have a story you’d like to investigate, email us at or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

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Matthew Schwartz

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