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Falsely Accused of Shoplifting, but Retailers Demand They Pay

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Jazmac    1,411

Walmart and other companies are using aggressive legal tactics to get the money back, demanding payments even when people haven’t been convicted of wrongdoing.
MOBILE, Ala. — Crystal Thompson was at home watching the Rose Bowl parade when a county sheriff came to arrest her for shoplifting from the local Walmart.
Ms. Thompson, 43, was baffled and scared. An agoraphobic, she had not shopped at a Walmart in more than a year. She was taken to a Mobile jail, searched, held in a small room and required to remove her false teeth, something she didn’t even do in front of her husband.
Four days after she returned home, the letters from Walmart’s lawyer started to arrive. The lawyer demanded that Ms. Thompson pay the company $200 or face a possible lawsuit. She received three letters over two months in early 2016.


Shoplifting is an intractable problem for retailers, costing stores more than $17 billion a year, according to an industry estimate. To get the money back, many companies employ aggressive legal tactics and take advantage of loosely written state laws, pushing for restitution even when people have not been convicted of wrongdoing.
Many of the laws were established so retailers could pursue shoplifters without clogging up the courts. Retailers, though, often move on both fronts, pressing criminal charges against suspects, while demanding that they pay up before cases are resolved.
In many states, retailers do not have to return the money they collect if the cases are ultimately dismissed or the people are cleared. A Walmart executive, in a court deposition, acknowledged that the company did not follow up to check on whether people it sought money from had been convicted of shoplifting.


Walmart and other companies have created well-oiled operations, hiring law firms to send tens of thousands of letters a year. Walmart set a collection goal of about $6 million in 2016 for one of its go-to firms, Palmer Reifler & Associates, according to a court paper filed as part of a lawsuit Ms. Thompson brought against the retailer. The firm also pointed out to Walmart that minors tended to pay off more frequently, the filing said.
“It is my word against this company,” said Ms. Thompson, whose criminal case was dismissed after no one from Walmart appeared at a hearing to testify against her. “I’m nobody special. I didn’t feel like I had a prayer.”
Walmart declined to comment on individual cases, citing continuing litigation.
“While there are multiple steps that our associates follow before initiating a civil claim against a customer, people can make mistakes,” the company said in a statement. “We are deeply sorry when that happens. We continually evaluate the effectiveness and benefit of our programs.”


Starting decades ago, the retail industry lobbied state legislatures for legal recourse to pursue shoplifters with fines. Retailers argued that the penalties would go a long way toward deterring future theft, and that rampant shoplifting ate into already thin profit margins, potentially raising prices for consumers.
In some states, companies have been able to collect more than the value of the allegedly stolen items, up to $1,000 in some instances. Despite numerous lawsuits against retailers and news reports about collection tactics, the laws have remained largely intact.
Maryland is one of the few states to revise its shoplifting statutes. In 2016, the state began requiring retailers to report the number of collection letters they send. To date, no retailer has complied with the new requirements, according to state records.


In Illinois, a 2015 proposal to reduce the penalties that retailers can demand from shoplifting suspects died in the legislature. One of the bill’s sponsors said an industry lobbyist had warned him that the issue was a “third rail” among retailers with deep political influence in the state.
“There is no evidence that these laws have decreased shoplifting or decriminalized petty crime at all,” said Ryan Sullivan, an assistant professor at the Nebraska College of Law who studies the impact of shoplifting laws.
Yatarra McQueen got ensnared in the system after she exchanged an inflatable mattress for a grill at a Walmart in Montgomery, Ala.
Store employees suspected that she had stolen the mattress. But they let her make the exchange and leave the store.
A few days later, Ms. McQueen found an arrest warrant in her mailbox. She drove to a detention center, where she was searched and made to wear a blue jump suit.
At the same time, Walmart forwarded her name to Palmer Reifler. The firm sent her two letters demanding that she pay $200 or face a potential lawsuit on top of the criminal charge, according to a suit she later filed against Walmart. Ms. McQueen said she was scared of being sued, but she did not have the money to pay.


“The most powerful company in the world called me a thief,” Ms. McQueen said in a court document. “I was terrified.”
No one from Walmart showed up at her criminal trial, and the case was dismissed. While she was awaiting trial, Ms. McQueen said, her temporary nursing license was put on hold for nearly six months.
“This is an unpopular constituency,” said Christian Schreiber, a lawyer who filed a lawsuit in California state court against Home Depot over the practice. The suit resulted in a settlement for about 3,500 people who received demand letters from Palmer Reifler. “These are people accused of theft, so there is not a big interest in their rights.”
In Burlington, N.C., Anna Marie Martin said two police officers “threw” her on a couch, handcuffed her and took her to jail, according to a lawsuit she filed against Walmart. Her alleged crime: stealing a Bryan Adams CD and two others, totaling $25.62, then hitting a car in the Walmart parking lot and driving away.


Palmer Reifler sent her two letters demanding that she pay $150 within 20 days. “You may be held civilly liable” for as much as $1,000, the letters said.
Both letters were sent before the authorities determined that Ms. Martin had been “mistakenly charged” and dropped the criminal case, according to her suit. A Walmart employee had told the police that she was “80 percent sure” that Ms. Martin was the thief.

more here..

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adrynalyne    9,411
1 hour ago, Jazmac said:

Walmart and other companies are using aggressive legal tactics to get the money back, demanding payments even when people haven’t been convicted of wrongdoing.
MOBILE, Ala. — Crystal Thompson was at home watching the Rose Bowl parade when a county sheriff came to arrest her for shoplifting from the local Walmart.
Ms. Thompson, 43, was baffled and scared. An agoraphobic, she had not shopped at a Walmart in more than a year. She was taken to a Mobile jail, searched, held in a small room and required to remove her false teeth, something she didn’t even do in front of her husband.
Four days after she returned home, the letters from Walmart’s lawyer started to arrive. The lawyer demanded that Ms. Thompson pay the company $200 or face a possible lawsuit. She received three letters over two months in early 2016.


Shoplifting is an intractable problem for retailers, costing stores more than $17 billion a year, according to an industry estimate. To get the money back, many companies employ aggressive legal tactics and take advantage of loosely written state laws, pushing for restitution even when people have not been convicted of wrongdoing.
Many of the laws were established so retailers could pursue shoplifters without clogging up the courts. Retailers, though, often move on both fronts, pressing criminal charges against suspects, while demanding that they pay up before cases are resolved.
In many states, retailers do not have to return the money they collect if the cases are ultimately dismissed or the people are cleared. A Walmart executive, in a court deposition, acknowledged that the company did not follow up to check on whether people it sought money from had been convicted of shoplifting.


Walmart and other companies have created well-oiled operations, hiring law firms to send tens of thousands of letters a year. Walmart set a collection goal of about $6 million in 2016 for one of its go-to firms, Palmer Reifler & Associates, according to a court paper filed as part of a lawsuit Ms. Thompson brought against the retailer. The firm also pointed out to Walmart that minors tended to pay off more frequently, the filing said.
“It is my word against this company,” said Ms. Thompson, whose criminal case was dismissed after no one from Walmart appeared at a hearing to testify against her. “I’m nobody special. I didn’t feel like I had a prayer.”
Walmart declined to comment on individual cases, citing continuing litigation.
“While there are multiple steps that our associates follow before initiating a civil claim against a customer, people can make mistakes,” the company said in a statement. “We are deeply sorry when that happens. We continually evaluate the effectiveness and benefit of our programs.”


Starting decades ago, the retail industry lobbied state legislatures for legal recourse to pursue shoplifters with fines. Retailers argued that the penalties would go a long way toward deterring future theft, and that rampant shoplifting ate into already thin profit margins, potentially raising prices for consumers.
In some states, companies have been able to collect more than the value of the allegedly stolen items, up to $1,000 in some instances. Despite numerous lawsuits against retailers and news reports about collection tactics, the laws have remained largely intact.
Maryland is one of the few states to revise its shoplifting statutes. In 2016, the state began requiring retailers to report the number of collection letters they send. To date, no retailer has complied with the new requirements, according to state records.


In Illinois, a 2015 proposal to reduce the penalties that retailers can demand from shoplifting suspects died in the legislature. One of the bill’s sponsors said an industry lobbyist had warned him that the issue was a “third rail” among retailers with deep political influence in the state.
“There is no evidence that these laws have decreased shoplifting or decriminalized petty crime at all,” said Ryan Sullivan, an assistant professor at the Nebraska College of Law who studies the impact of shoplifting laws.
Yatarra McQueen got ensnared in the system after she exchanged an inflatable mattress for a grill at a Walmart in Montgomery, Ala.
Store employees suspected that she had stolen the mattress. But they let her make the exchange and leave the store.
A few days later, Ms. McQueen found an arrest warrant in her mailbox. She drove to a detention center, where she was searched and made to wear a blue jump suit.
At the same time, Walmart forwarded her name to Palmer Reifler. The firm sent her two letters demanding that she pay $200 or face a potential lawsuit on top of the criminal charge, according to a suit she later filed against Walmart. Ms. McQueen said she was scared of being sued, but she did not have the money to pay.


“The most powerful company in the world called me a thief,” Ms. McQueen said in a court document. “I was terrified.”
No one from Walmart showed up at her criminal trial, and the case was dismissed. While she was awaiting trial, Ms. McQueen said, her temporary nursing license was put on hold for nearly six months.
“This is an unpopular constituency,” said Christian Schreiber, a lawyer who filed a lawsuit in California state court against Home Depot over the practice. The suit resulted in a settlement for about 3,500 people who received demand letters from Palmer Reifler. “These are people accused of theft, so there is not a big interest in their rights.”
In Burlington, N.C., Anna Marie Martin said two police officers “threw” her on a couch, handcuffed her and took her to jail, according to a lawsuit she filed against Walmart. Her alleged crime: stealing a Bryan Adams CD and two others, totaling $25.62, then hitting a car in the Walmart parking lot and driving away.


Palmer Reifler sent her two letters demanding that she pay $150 within 20 days. “You may be held civilly liable” for as much as $1,000, the letters said.
Both letters were sent before the authorities determined that Ms. Martin had been “mistakenly charged” and dropped the criminal case, according to her suit. A Walmart employee had told the police that she was “80 percent sure” that Ms. Martin was the thief.

more here..

Something doesn't sit right with this story. She hadn't been to Walmart in over a year, and yet, the employee ID'ed her? How do you ID someone who was never there? Does the employee know her or something?

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+Minime5600    144

Death is good :)for living only costs money and I won’t need to live where I am atm

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zhangm    1,291

Thread title changed to reflect source article.

https://www.neowin.net/forum/topic/819526-guidelines-on-posting-from-other-sites/

 

Seems like the larger issue is that third-party collections agencies can send bills to anyone with a threat to sue. The consequences to the collections companies are negligible enough that they don't much care whether the people who they are threatening are actually liable for said bills. Contracting out to the collections agencies has nothing do with whether a crime was committed, or...whether money is actually owed.

Quote

“While there are multiple steps that our associates follow before initiating a civil claim against a customer, people can make mistakes,” the company said in a statement. “We are deeply sorry when that happens. We continually evaluate the effectiveness and benefit of our programs.”

Guess it's ok, since they're deeply sorry. :/

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