Shoplifters who were caught and released are getting an additional scare in the mail after the event occurs. You may have been caught lifting a pack of gum, or a shirt from a local store. When you were caught you may have just been asked some questions and let go on the spot. However, a letter might come in the mail to scare you after the fact even if you aren't arrested.
Typically when you are caught shoplifting in Illinois, the store gets their merchandise back undamaged, on the spot. There are no damages incurred by the store, as they are free to sell that t-shirt or pack of gum. However, some law firms are coming after shoplifters in an attempt to gain monetarily for the event. A letter arrives, from a law firm claiming damages and back legal fees they claim a shoplifter owes. This is called a civil demand letter. This letter does not mean any charges have been filed against the shoplifter and the person who receives the letter probably shouldn’t pay. In my opinion, making the payment admits guilt.
If a legitimate lawsuit is going to happen, it will come in the form of a summons. It will not come in the form of a threatening or harassing letter. These letters are actually a form of extortion to those who may have simply attempted to steal their lunch because they couldn’t afford to pay for the meal or simply screwed up. In a legitimate civil demand situation, a law suit will be filed and the company would have to prove damages, again if the company receives their merchandise back undamaged, there are no damages that are able to be proven.
These civil demand letters are sent specifically in an effort to scare you out of your money when you have been caught shoplifting on a small scale and they also are a deterrent to prevent you and others from doing it again. If you have received one of these letters it's up to you whether to pay or not. They might sue you -which could cost you more - they might do nothing. We certainly don't see actual lawsuits filed very often in these cases, but it's a roll of the dice.
While I'm not pro-shoplifting, I think the idea of demanding that someone pay $500 as a "re-stocking fee" or for whatever inconvenience they've had is quite ridiculous. If you pay you could also potentially create the evidence which could be used against you in a criminal proceeding. Most stores don't want to have someone take the day off to go to court for one of these cases. It could backfire, but I personally would never recommend to anyone that they pay off one of these letters. It's just extortion even if you are in the wrong.