Shoplifters Getting Tricked In To Fines

If a store catches you shoplifting, they may or may not contact the police. It's their call. If you're a run-of-the-mill shoplifter, they might decide to just let you go, along with barring you from the store. Now if you try to walk out with a pricey necklace, Lindsay Lohan style, it's a different story (she may be looking at a felony). I'm talking about a pack of gum, nail polish, a book. If you are suspected of stealing something like this, you'll probably be detained (not an arrest), but after asking you questions they might send you on your way and not charge you criminally with retail theft in Illinois.

But just because the police weren't called doesn't mean it's over. In many cases, a suspected shoplifter will get what's called a civil demand letter in the mail. The letter, from a law firm, will tell you to pay a certain amount of money, usually much more than the value of what you supposedly lifted. You can get a demand letter even if you did nothing wrong.

The point of the letter is to scare you into paying an inflated amount. Usually the store gets the merchandise back undamaged, but they charge you anyway. And then they tack on legal fees with no basis whatsoever. Getting this letter doesn't mean that the police are involved. It doesn't mean you are being charged with a crime. But it is a threat. The letter basically says that if you don't pay, you will be sued.

And they might sue, but don't pay just because you get a threatening letter. It's a scam. These are form letters, sent out by the thousands. Enough people pay to make it worth it for both the store and the attorneys who get to keep a portion of what's collected.

The law allows for civil demands, but in my opinion the law is being abused. Sure, some of these people tried to take something that wasn't theirs, but at the same time vulnerable people are being taken advantage of. It's like a bully demanding lunch money. Many end up paying, simply out of fear.



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  • "vulnerable people are being taken advantage of." How about the non-thieving consumers who pay higher prices because of shoplifters? Your empathy for the vulnerable is misplaced.

  • Michael, I must admit I am a bit surprised on your outlook on this situation. Why would you call the Civil demand process as it relates to retailers a scam?? The person who is receiving the letter stole from a retailer. You referred to it as it being an "inflated amount". You do realize the store is being compensated for the time spent dealing with the situation, re-ticketing / re-packaging the merchandise, as most of the time the product is removed from it's packaging, paying for anti-theft equipment not to mention the person who caught the shoplifter!!?? I have worked in the Law Department for two major retailers and can tell you that most major retailers do aggressively pursue Civil Demand. So, as for telling all these shoplifters not to pay their Civil you are setting them up for action from third party collection agencies and damaging their credit almost as bad as their dignity.
    You also mentioned that the law is being abused and vulnerable people being taken advantage of?? WHAT VULNERABLE PEOPLE?? HAHA!! THEY'RE SHOPLIFTERS, CRIMINALS!! HAHA! Why shouldn't they be punished to the fullest extent of the law? A store wouldn't randomly send out a Civil Demand to random customers. Really not sure what you are talking about?? I guess that is to be expected from a Lawyer that works for "FINDALAWYER.COM"

  • Maybe it was poorly written. I meant it was a scam for two types of people. 1. Those who are falsely accused or made a mistake (e.g. I've had people call me accused of this who were shopping with a child and the child ran out of the store and they ran after them. 2. People who the store decline to press charges against. If you as a store owner don't think it's worth pressing charges then don't try to get a $500 re-stocking fee or something like that which happens all the time. Ban the people from your store if you want, but these collections, in my opinion, are meant as a money grab only. If someone takes a $5 bracelet, let the court fine them, don't let the stores act as the Judge. My opinion.

  • Michael, first off I would like to apologize for my last comment. I was having a bad day and tried to unwind by surfing the internet. My comments toward you were rude and unprofessional.
    As far as your opinion on the topic, most major retailers have certain steps set up before they will detain a suspected shoplifter. Of course I will not reveal all steps but "the object of intent" is usually one of them. This is to avoid something like a Mother chasing a child being detained. With that being said, I'm sure there are some renegade Store detectives that don't abide by store policy and certain situations where theft was not intended are handled incorrectly. Sadly however, there are some very disgusting, sneaky people out there who wouldn't think twice on using their children to disguise a misunderstanding with an actual theft. The current retailer that I work for guidelines on prosecution and Civil are equal in dollar amount. In most cases if we don't prosecute, we don't Civil. Some stores prosecution guidelines are higher as we cooperate with local PD's request. So, in some situations Civil demand could be expected without prosecution. I do know that not all retailers have the same outlook as us and they do Civil most all cases regardless of the amount. You may find this unfair but must realize that the Security department / Loss Prevention / Asset Protection is one of the few departments not supported by sales. Retailers spend millions running sophisticated Security departments and the Civil demand collected funds this.

  • In reply to tflann203:

    That makes sense. I'd be curious as to what your lawyer's charge. Most that I see on these cases charge nothing other than the filing fee and try to get their money by billing their time to the client. So if something stolen costs $50 and the store says they want $150 (fair amount), the lawyer will start off with a demand letter of $1,200 which mostly is for their time and it goes up from there. Some will threaten prosecution if they don't pay, others act like a collection agency and have min wage clerks make harassing calls. I'm sure like many things in life, my frame of reference is based on what I've seen which is the bad situations, not the guilty people who are dealing with reputable companies like yours.

  • In reply to Findgreatlawyers:

    Michael, to be honest I do not know off the top of my head what our Lawyers charge. I will look into that and get back to you. We outsource different Law Offices throughout the country and you are right...different offices use different techniques for collection. Basically we go with the collectors that have the best collection rate. As long as it is legal we really don't care what their methods are. I can tell you that they do not charge their fee to the shoplifter and add it into their collection amount. We do pay our lawyers. Also, please keep in mind that the amount allowed to be collected varies from state to state. In some Markets the fee is a flat amount anywhere from $100 to $500 no matter what the amount taken was. Other markets it's doublw what the attempted theft was, others it's the amount attempted to be stolen plus X amount of dollars.
    I happen to stand on the other side of the fence and deal with mostly the guilty. I've seen people bring cases to litigation claiming their innocence and demanding damages for wrongful detainment. Then I see the evidence and clearly they are in the wrong. They are on video committing a larceny. I just don't understand their thought process.

  • In reply to tflann203:

    I'd be curious if these firms copy you on their letters. I'd also be curious to see if you ever audited their work, e.g. ask them what was paid by the thief and then ask the thief what they paid. Hopefully it's always the same, but I'll bet a nickel that some of your attorneys are making more than your realize.

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