Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Some American stores are scamming shoplifters

I know what you are thinking. Who cares if shoplifters are scammed by the stores they steal from or scammed by the attorneys retained by the stores? I do and so do a great many other people and for good reason.

For years, major American, Canadian and British retailers have been bullying shoplifters into paying sums of money in so-called civil fines despite the fact that in many cases, the alleged incidents are strongly disputed or unproven and the stolen goods were retrieved and are back in the stores.  Further, these demands are sent to the shoplifter’s homes and worse yet in some cases, to the shoplifter’s parents by scummy attorneys who make these demands on behalf of the stores. Their demands have no apparent basis in law.

Imagine if you will, your teenage son  steals a pair of mitts, is caught and the mitts are placed back on the shelf and the shoplifter is warned by the shop owner that the next time, the police will be called. That is what generally happens.

Now as a parent, how will you feel when you get a letter from an attorney demanding that you pay him $500 that will pay for the cost of the apprehension of your son and knowing that the store hasn’t suffered from the loss of the mitts as they were placed back onto the shelf that they were stolen from? This is why this kind of letter from an attorney is a scam.

Incidentally, in the Province of Ontario in Canada, a victim of a crime committed by a child can sue the parents of the child in Small Claims Court  for damages. The upper limit in those courts are $25,000.

In an escalating battle against theft, retailers are going after anyone suspected of shoplifting by turning over their names to lawyers and collection firms, who pursue the suspects for stiff penalties and split the take with the retailer.

There is a lawyer in Canada who has been pulling off this scam for years. and judging from the thousands of responses I have received from Canadian shoplifters for my advice, I estimate that I have prevented over a million dollars from getting into the grasping hands of that attorney and his client stores.   

People accused of shoplifting are increasingly receiving letters demanding large sums of money for compensation to the retailer and being threatened with court action if they don't pay up. The demands for damages are being sent to shoplifters or their parents in cases where criminal charges are rarely brought, and in many cases when the police have not even been called.

Many years ago, I was asked by a friend who owned a large drug store if I could spend my Saturdays keeping my eyes open for shoplifters in his store. One of the things he told me not to do was to call the police. He said that the parents of the children apprehended would be really upset if the police were called and they would no longer purchase items from his store. That is why in most cases, the police are not called unless the stores are hit by shoplifting gangs.

The so-called civil recovery scam works in many cases because the attorney who pulls off this kind of scam relies on intimidation, shame and ignorance of the law for its effectiveness. Many of the recipients of civil recovery threats are teenagers and many others have serious mental health problems, or are poor and therefore especially vulnerable.
Such civil recovery claims by a retailer or its scumbag attorney that civil recovery helps to counter the cost of retail crime just doesn’t add up since the total amount 'recovered' by the attorneys for their retailer clients each year is, less than 0.4% of the total that shoplifting costs the retail sector each year. Further it is common knowledge in the retail industry that most theft in stores are caused by their employees.

The mindset of the retailers and their scumbag attorneys acting on their behalf in their “civil recovery” scam is that civil recovery not only acts as an effective deterrent to shoplifting crime, it recovers the retailer's costs and losses directly from those responsible, which is fairer for everyone.

Such a statement is pure rubbish. The retailer isn’t out any money if the stolen goods are placed back on the shelf. If they have store investigators in their stores, they pay them salaries whether or not they apprehend shoplifters.

Here are some stories I read about that shows you just how scummy this practice can be. I got this information from a very interesting article in Google titled Big Retail Chains Dun Mere Suspects in Theft.  

A Miami handyman was accused of shoplifting an $8 set of drill bits at Home Depot. He was arrested and charged with theft. He later  thought he had settled the matter when he showed his receipt to the prosecutors and they dropped the charge. But a few weeks later, a law firm hired by Home Depot began sending him letters demanding first $3,000, then a total of $6,000, implying he'd be sued if he didn't pay it.

A Massachusetts mother wanted to know why a Florida firm was demanding her 14-year-old son pay $475 for a $10.99 pair of sunglasses he attempted to steal.

A Philadelphia firm first sought a total of about $1,400 in civil damages from three women for merchandise that was undamaged and put back into stock for resale. Two of them paid and each received a letter saying the payment "satisfied her civil obligation." A third one did not pay, and instead got a "final notice," saying that she could have to pay "additional costs." And that her "credit rating might be adversely impacted.   I don’t know if she paid the scumbag firm or not.

Obviously this civil recovery scam can bring in a lot of money to the scumbag attorney’s that ply this scam on unsuspecting victims.

Chain letters are mailed to suspected shoplifters by a Florida law firm which also handles the task for four dozen other clients, including Wal-Mart Stores and Walgreen, keeping 13% to 30% of what it collects. A partner at the law firm has said that it sends out about 1.2 million civil-recovery demand letters a year but follows up by suing fewer than 10 times a year.

This leads people to fear a suit when none is likely makes civil recovery a kind of "shakedown," contends a State of Maine lawyer who complained about an attorney to the Florida bar association in 2007. The attorney complained about didn't return several calls seeking comment. In a letter to the bar association, the attorney defended civil recovery as “a first alternative dispute measure” to resolve cases short of litigation.

That kind of response is like something one would pull out of the bowl of a toilet.

Most states permit a separate legal fee only if a court first approves it, but 10 states don't bar asking for “pre-litigation” fees. That would never happen in Canada. In fact only one case took place in Canada in which the attorney asked for the civil recovery fees. He lost his case. The judge ruled that the store didn’t suffer any financial loss.  

In the United States, civil recovery laws allow store and retailers to prosecute alleged shoplifters in civil court. Every state has a civil recovery law that holds shoplifters liable to pay retailer's any losses as a result of their unlawful acts in their stores.

If a shoplifter has damaged the stolen goods or the stolen goods have not been recovered, than civil recovery is appropriate. But if the stolen goods have not been damaged and in fact have been retrieved by the store, in my opinion, there is no justification for seeking compensation from the shoplifter for losses claimed. What is the loss the store is claiming?

Store detectives are paid a salary so whether or not they apprehend a shoplifter, it isn’t costing the story more money other than what they have already paid the salary of the store detective who apprehended the shoplifter.

If the goods are retrieved undamaged, then there is no loss with respect to the goods.

The argument that the monies claimed is a form of punishment that will deter the shoplifter is most inappropriate since it is the courts that punish wrongdoers, not stores or their attorneys.

Here is an example to consider. California's civil recovery statute is California Penal Code section 490.5(b) and (c). The statute provides that a person who steals merchandise from a merchant or a book from a  library may be civilly liable to the merchant or library for between $50 and $500, plus costs, plus the value of the item stolen if it has not been recovered in its original condition. 

The key word in that statute is “steals” But a shoplifter who has been apprehended with the stolen items on his person has not really stolen the items. He or she has attempted to steal the items. And as I said earlier in the previous paragraph, the store hasn’t suffered from any loss of the items are recovered undamaged.

In my opinion, any attempt to claim damages from a shoplifter who has been apprehended and the goods are returned undamaged. is a scam.  

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