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Caught Shoplifting: What Happens Next?

I spent 16 years working in retail Loss Prevention, and I am Wicklander-Zulawski-certified to interview dishonest retail employees.

The best shoplifters get in and out of the store quickly, but most get caught.

The best shoplifters get in and out of the store quickly, but most get caught.

Your Actions Determine How You'll Spend the Rest of Your Day

Firstly, I'm not an attorney. The following article is not intended to be legal advice. If you are stopped by a Loss Prevention employee, you are advised to consult with your lawyer. Shoplifting laws vary from state to state and country to country.

The following is just a guide based on my experience as a loss prevention specialist.

Shoplifting: The Scenario

So there you are walking down Aisle #6 and you can't help yourself. The Tylenol is just sitting there waiting to be stolen. For some reason, you can't justify paying $6.99 for a bottle of 50 caplets. "That's insane," you're thinking. "How can they expect me to pay all this money just for that?"

You glance around. There's no one in the aisle. You look up to see a black camera dome, straight above you. You think it over. Your palms get sweaty. "No one really watches us through those things, do they?" you ask yourself.

You reach over and grab it off the shelf already feeling (and looking) guilty. Within 10 seconds it's inside your pocketbook. What a rush! Your heart is pumping, and you can actually hear it.

"I got away with it." you're thinking.

You decide to do some legitimate shopping. It takes you another half an hour to fill up your grocery cart and then you head up front to the checkout lanes. You feel better. You've almost forgotten you've just committed a crime.

After the cashier checks out your order, you pay for your items using your Visa card. The grocery bagger has placed your last bag inside your carriage and you walk outside, feeling pretty good about yourself. "I've paid enough for my groceries!", you rationalize. "Serves them right for charging so much for a little bottle of Tylenol."

All of a sudden from behind you hear a professional, sounding voice (for our purposes, this voice is female) and she says.

"Excuse me, ma'am. I'm with store security. Could you please step back inside the store with me? There's been a mistake made and we need to discuss it."

At this point, you're praying for a heart attack as the "fight or flight" syndrome takes over. Hundreds of questions are going through your mind. "What should I do? Should I run?, should I go back? Am I going to be arrested? Will this get in the paper? My husband is going to kill me!"

Bad news. You're being stopped for shoplifting. What you do from this point on might determine how you spend the rest of your day.

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What To Do if You are Caught Shoplifting

1. Don't run.

This will cause a reaction from the store detective. If the detective is allowed to apprehend you, they will attempt to grab you and force you to come back into the store. If the store detective is NOT allowed to touch you (depending on local laws and the rules of the store), and you run, they may at their option notify the police. It's not a bright idea to run.

2. Don't over-react.

Remember this. As nervous and excited you are, the store detective is just as (and perhaps) more nervous than you are. They have no idea who you are. They don't know if you're carrying a weapon, capable of striking them, are a drug addict who may stab them with an HIV infected needle, etc. Try to remain calm. Don't make any sudden movements that might be misconstrued as a threat of bodily harm to the detective. Even a "hands-off" loss prevention detective will defend him/herself. This is a crucial moment. Try and stay calm.

3. Don't try to bargain.

LP has heard it all before. "I'll never come back, please don't do this." I'll never do it again!", "I did it for my kids" "I was going to come back and pay for it later!", "I forgot to pay for it!" "Can I please go if I pay for it?" The list goes on and on. The excuses get old after awhile. You stole an item and that's all there is to it.

4. Don't try to cut a deal.

The store detective does not care about your reasons for stealing. They want the apprehension to happen. Most don't just want the merchandise back. They NEED your name, address and other personal information for their records. They have to justify their paycheck to their boss and their store. They HAVE to show that they're doing the job.

5. The longer you stay outside with the detective, the more embarrassing it's going to be when your neighbor walks by.

You can try to hand off the merchandise and walk away and HOPE that they don't call the cops for a measly $6.99, but don't count on it. If you go inside the store with the detective, you can be out in 5 minutes. Decide carefully.

6. LP is watching your every move.

Keep your hands clear of your pockets, handbag, etc. Don't make any sudden jerking movements and keep your voice down. What you're trying to do is to place the detective at ease here. You only stole a bottle of Tylenol. You didn't commit a murder. Chill out.

7. Make certain a witness is present.

Once in the LP Office, make sure there is a witness present of the same sex as yourself. (If the detective is the same sex as the shoplifter a person of the opposite sex may be used as a witness) The witness will in most cases be whatever employee of the store is available. You will be asked a series of questions. Be as pleasant as possible and don't lie. The detective may anticipate a lie and ask you the same question later on in the interview. At this point, you may want to give up the Tylenol-and whatever other merchandise you have taken from that store. Wait for the detective to ask you for the merchandise. Do NOT stick your hands in your pocket to get the merchandise on your own. The detective may interpret this action as a threat.

8. Don't sign anything until you read it.

If you have proper ID, the detective will probably release you upon your signature. Be careful what you sign. If you have any questions about what you're signing, feel free to ask questions, but beware. The detective is not an attorney, either. In most cases, he/she is right out of high school. Use your own judgment. You could refuse to sign, but this may be taken as a sign of non-cooperation and the police may be called.

9. Civil Recovery?

If the state where you reside, has a Civil Recovery Law in effect, you may also be asked to sign a statement stating you understand the elements behind Civil Recovery. Civil Recovery is a law that says merchants have the right to civilly sue the shoplifter for costs incurred during the shoplifting process. (If you need more info on the Civil Recovery law in your state, simply Google "Civil Recovery in Arkansas" for example) A CR fine can be high. I've heard of fines up to $500. Civil Recovery is the way that LP Departments make money. That money goes to the bottom line. Usually it's a 50/50 split between the store and the company they hire to recover your money. If you ask the detective questions concerning Civil Demand, they will hand you a flyer (or some other sort of printed info) and claim they "don't know much about it." (this is said on purpose and to reduce the store's liability.) There will be a phone number on the form (usually connecting to the collecting company) you can dial for more info.

Talk to your attorney before making any kind of civil demand payments. In fact, my advice is to talk with your attorney after your shoplifting apprehension. He/she may find flaws in your situation which may steer the store away from your paying Civil Demand. (If you bitch loud enough, the store may even give you a gift certificate to use on your next shopping trip.)

10. If the detective tells you that you the police are on their way, shut your mouth.

There is no changing their minds. Don't offer up merchandise or any other personal info. Even your name. They're not cops. Save your breath and try and calm down before the police arrive.

My last bit of advice? Don't chance it again.

Caught Shoplifting? Get a Free Ride in this Car

Caught Shoplifting? Get a Free Ride in this Car

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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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