Shoplifting is the crime of stealing merchandise for sale in a retail store. To commit the crime of shoplifting, one must intend to deprive the store owner or merchant of the merchandise permanently. Shoplifting is usually done by concealing the merchandise in a bag or pocket and walking out of the store without paying or pushing it out in a stroller.

Shoplifting is a type of theft known as larceny. Larceny laws will vary from state to state. Some states may prosecute shoplifters under theft laws, but many have enacted laws that specifically deal with shoplifting.

This crime includes removing items from the store without paying and switching price tags to pay less for fewer items, wearing clothing and then returning it, and eating food in a store without paying for it.

What are the Types of Shoplifters?

Experts say there are two categories of shoplifters. They are classified as:

  1. Amateurs. Some shoplifters are considered amateurs who don’t regularly steal from stores and don’t use shoplifting as a source of income. Amateur shoplifters typically do not resell goods. These shoplifters are considered “amateurs” because they steal items for their personal use only. Amateur shoplifters may consist of teenagers or young adults.
  2. Career criminals. Some people and groups make a living from shoplifting and performing other crimes. These shoplifters tend to be more skilled career criminals who use sophisticated shoplifting tactics. Professional thieves tend to resell stolen items on the black market.

What are Commonly Shoplifted Items?

Before stores started keeping them behind the cash register, cigarettes were the most commonly shoplifted item in the United States. Commonly shoplifted items are typically small and easy to hide. Grocery items like steaks and instant coffee are often stolen. Razor blades, ink cartridges, smaller technology items, such as smartphones, USB flash drives, earphones, gift cards, cosmetics, nail polish, jewelry, multivitamins, gum, pregnancy tests, toothbrushes, and clothing are all popular items for shoplifters.

Why is Shoplifting So Common?

Economists say that shoplifting is a common crime because it is relatively easy to pull off. Shoplifting is a relatively unskilled crime with low entry barriers that can easily be fit into a normal lifestyle. Shoplifting is consistent among race, ethnicity, gender, and social class. Males are equally as likely to shoplift as females.

The average shoplifter first shoplifted at the age of ten. Shoplifting activity tends to peak during adolescence and then steadily decreases afterward.

Poor people shoplift only slightly more than rich people. Men tend to shoplift using bags or pockets, while women use strollers or purses. On average, when a shoplifter is caught, they have $200 worth of unpaid merchandise on them.

What are the Potential Consequences for Shoplifting?

Stores may detain suspected shoplifters for a reasonable amount of time and question them in a reasonable manner if they have probable cause to do so. This is referred to as the shopkeeper’s privilege. The store employees may also contact the police.

Criminal charges for shoplifting will generally depend upon the value of the merchandise stolen. In cases with a lesser value of merchandise stolen, the crime may be charged as a misdemeanor. Thefts of greater value may be punishable as felonies. Felonies are much more serious, as they carry greater penalties, particularly in terms of jail time.

States’ statutes may vary widely in their legal consequences for shoplifting in terms of whether the crime is charged as some level of misdemeanor, felony, or possibly merely an infraction. State prosecutors may have discretion in charging offenders, depending upon the circumstances and their criminal records (if any).

What is the Economic Impact of Shoplifting?

Shoplifting is the single largest reason for losses of merchandise in the retail industry. Retailers report that shoplifting has a significant effect on their bottom lines. About 0.6% of all retail inventory disappears to shoplifters, and shoplifting costs American retailers approximately $14 billion every year. Shoplifting costs US retailers about $25 million per day.

Industry shoplifting experts believe that over half of all shoplifting activity is employee theft or fraud, while store patrons commit the other half.

How is Shoplifting Prevented?

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) monitoring is the most commonly used anti-shopping technology. Loss prevention personnel consist of uniformed officers and plain-clothed store detectives. Large department stores often have employees that patrol the store.

Shoppers in some stores are asked to present their receipts when they leave the premises. Most expensive merchandise is locked in a case and requires an employee to fetch items at a customer’s request. Commonly stolen items, such as Plan B, video games, and USB flash drives, are also locked behind cases.

What are the Criteria for Apprehending a Shoplifting Suspect?

Security guards are typically given the following criteria that must be met before they can apprehend a shoplifting suspect:

  • Security guards must see the shoplifter approach the merchandise, select the merchandise, conceal it, convert it, or carry away the merchandise.
  • Security guards must maintain continuous observation of the shoplifter
  • The shoplifter must be observed leaving the store without paying for the merchandise
  • The shoplifter must be apprehended outside of the store

What are the Consequences for Minors?

Shoplifting penalties are still serious for children under the age of 18. If convicted, the charges will be reflected on the minor’s record. With the assistance of an attorney, minors should complete any available programs or community service which may lessen or remove their charges. They should also follow up on having their records expunged in the future.

Can Adults Also Have the Charges Expunged?

An adult convicted of shoplifting may, a certain amount of time after the conviction, petition to have the conviction expunged. This request is much more likely to be granted if the adult was convicted only of a misdemeanor.

It takes a lot of time and effort to have your record expunged as an adult. If you’d like to learn more about getting your criminal record expunged, try reading the following articles: How to Get a Misdemeanor Expunged and How to Get a Felony Expunged.

Should I Contact an Attorney to Deal with Shoplifting Charges?

If you have been charged with shoplifting, you should contact an attorney for assistance. An experienced attorney can help you to see whether it’s possible to get your charges lessened and, possibly, eventually expunged. Criminal records will affect your ability to gain employment. Criminal charges come with serious consequences, including social stigma and unwanted charges on your permanent record.

Suppose your minor child has been charged with shoplifting, even for a very minor value of merchandise. In that case, you should contact a local criminal attorney so that everything possible may be done to keep the minor from having a criminal record indefinitely. Criminal convictions can have major consequences for minors, for example, when it comes to getting into colleges or getting jobs.

LegalMatch’s database of criminal attorneys is broad and comprehensive. Use the link provided here to find an excellent attorney in your area. By using LegalMatch’s services, you can narrow down your search for a lawyer in your city or state by selecting the issues involved in your case. There is no fee to present your case, and LegalMatch’s service is always 100% confidential.