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.
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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