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What Happens If You Get Caught Shoplifting?

Alessio enjoys writing about finance and ways to better manage money.

Shoplifting is a serious crime, but some people do it for fun.

Shoplifting is a serious crime, but some people do it for fun.

Shoplifting—stealing items from a store without paying for them—is often considered a stunt. Some people steal food from supermarkets because they do not have money, while others steal just because it feels good and cool. The latter are often either unaware of the consequences of their actions or don't care about them, like people who don't pay their bills at a restaurant.

When you steal something from a shop, it doesn't seem like any consequences for the commercial establishment's owner. Shoplifters often justify it by saying, "The supermarket won't fail if I steal a pack of biscuits."

While that's understandable if you're taking something from a big box company, it's not if you are stealing something from a locally owned small business. Small businesses often don't have the resources to monitor shoplifting, and what seems like a slight loss could be a hit to their business. They may have to raise prices to repair losses caused by shoplifters.

It's not just about a single packet of biscuits: if many people steal packs of biscuits with the same reasoning, this will effectively lead to losses to the store. Shoplifting causes about $35 billion of losses from businesses each year. Considering all these aspects, it is easy to understand why some people think taking a pack of biscuits from a supermarket without paying for it is a severe crime.

What happens if you're caught shoplifting by a security guard?

What happens if you're caught shoplifting by a security guard?

What Happens If You Get Caught Shoplifting?

If you or a friend of yours has been caught shoplifting, the first natural consequence will be a little embarrassment—being caught shoplifting and triggering the anti-theft system in front of many other people isn't a pleasant experience.

If you're lucky and encounter a security guard who doesn't want to cause problems, you might be invited to pay for the "forgotten" items, especially if you are young. Some guards will alert you; however, many others are not so sympathetic. The first thing they do is retrieve the stolen items or make you pay for them.

They'll likely put your name on record just in case you're caught shoplifting again.

They'll likely put your name on record just in case you're caught shoplifting again.

They Might Put You on File

Many supermarkets deal with shoplifters by maintaining records with their names. The security guard, after having registered your theft, might take you to an office and ask you for your ID. They will also add your name to a record so they can recognize you the next time you try to steal something from that store.

Many security guards tend to warn you the first time, add your name to the record, and will only call law enforcement if the person tries to shoplift again. It does not mean you should steal something thinking, "I just won't steal from this store again, no problem." Other security guards may decide to call law enforcement the first time.

You Might Be Banned From the Store

It is not unusual for store managers to decide on a specific punishment, especially as an alternative to calling the police (but sometimes it is in addition to doing so). After writing your name on the record, the security may warn you not to enter the store again in the future: you are forever banned from going in that place, even if you want to buy something.

A store is considered private property, so while they cannot legally ban someone because of their race or sexuality, they can do so against a known shoplifter.

They May Call the Police

Store staff might call the police after all the other two options have been exhausted or even right away. If they do it, you might get in trouble and be issued a fine or a ticket, which might be recorded on your permanent record. If you are issued a ticket, you will likely have to appear in court to plead guilty or not guilty, and it might be worth hiring a lawyer to represent you. It is the worst situation you could be in if you shoplift.

Stores Have Measures to Prevent Shoplifting

Shops take various security measures to prevent shoplifting, like hiring security staff and installing cameras. Some big shopping malls and small shops even prohibit you from taking photos inside so that you cannot study the place and plan a future theft.

In addition, they place annoying anti-theft devices on items we want to purchase, and we cannot enter the changing room with more than a certain number of items. Often times, customers are followed every second they move around the shop.

As you can see, shoplifting may lead to serious unintended consequences. Though you may consider it a stunt, store owners often treat it as a serious crime. In addition to the personal liability you'll have for the stolen objects, you should always consider also you are damaging someone else when you take items from a store without paying for them. This, of course, does not apply only to shoplifting: there are other bad behaviors to avoid when you are going shopping or even when you are just going to eat at a restaurant or drink something at a cafe. The video shows some of them: thinking of asking to pay later for your drink and then never coming back again? Remember you are still harming a business place, even if, in this case, you are less likely to be prosecuted.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Alessio Ganci