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Shoplifting and Civil Demand Letters

Armando Nava

Shoplifting may seem like a minor crime, but retailers feel differently. The warning signs posted around dressing rooms, restrooms, and exits should not be taken lightly. If you get caught shoplifting, the plaintiff has several options. They can report it to the police to press criminal charges, they can file a civil lawsuit, and they can send you a civil demand letter.

What is a civil demand letter?

A civil demand letter is sent to a person caught shoplifting. It demands a certain sum of money, often in excess of the stolen goods – even if the stolen goods were recovered undamaged. The money is meant to cover the expense incurred by shoplifters, including the cost of hiring security guards, the cost of installing security systems, the cost of teaching employees how to deal with shoplifters and the cost of legal fees, such as having a lawyer on retainer.

What happens if you don’t pay?

In many cases, nothing. This is especially true if you were caught shoplifting something of minor value. A civil demand letter is a legal attempt to obtain money, but it’s not one you’re legally obliged to pay. Many stores will send out civil demand letters because they don’t cost much to write and send. They could follow up by filing a civil lawsuit, or by pursuing criminal charges. For many stores, this simply isn’t worth the time and money it would cost to do so, especially if the theft was minor. That doesn’t mean that they won’t take further action, however.

If you pay, does that mean there will be no charges?

No. A store can still file a civil lawsuit even if you pay the requested amount of the civil demand letter. It would be illegal for them to accept money in exchange for not suing you.

As for criminal charges, the police, not the store, are the ones who would bring those against you. If the store reported the alleged crime to the police and you have not faced criminal charges by the time you receive the letter, the police probably chose not to press charges.

Keep in mind that if the store bans you from the premises, you can be charged with trespassing if you are found on the property again.

If you have been accused of shoplifting, don’t hesitate to get professional legal advice on what you should do.

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