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  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Posts
    1

    Default Caught shoplifting at Wal-Mart, received letter today.

    I'm 20 years old, full time student but I'm also active duty in the military. It's a little complicated, I was injured in Iraq so basically they're letting me stay at home to recover and go to school. About two weeks ago I was caught shoplifting at wal-mart. As embarassing as it may sound, I was caught stealing some school supplies, two pens and a battery pack. (somewhere around $20) They took down my information from my driver's liscence and today I received a letter from a Law firm on behalf of Wal-Mart telling me that I should pay them. However I am a little confused over the letter because it seems they will be sending more payment requests.

    I have a clean record and I know this is really stupid of me but I was really under financial hardship. The military accounting messed up my pay, when I was sent back to the states, I was still getting overseas pay for three months so they had to take back my pay.

    Here's what the letter says.

    This firm has been asked by Wal-Mart STores, Inc. to handle the resolution of a shoplifting incident in which you were involved. Our records indicate that on APril 20, 2006 you committed the act of shoplifting or theft as defined by your state.

    The law in your state authorizes the merchant to recover civil damages and/or penalties, which they suffer as a result of shoplifting. A copy of this statute is included on the reverse side of this letter. (Please note that there is no representation that this statute is current, complete, or accurate. The inclusion of this text is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice.)

    This letter is a settlement offer in order to settle all potential claims our client may have against you, arising from this incident, for a lesser amount before this matter proceeds any further within our office. The amount that you need to pay in order to settle this matter at this time is $225.00.

    This settlement amount is less than the full amount of daamges and/or penalties that our client is allowed by law to pursue. However, if you do not pay this amount by May 31, 2006, the amount you will be required to pay to settle this matter will increase.

    In the event that you do not pay the amount listed above, your state law may allow a civil action to be filed against you. If an action is filed against you, your client will seek court costs and attorneys' fee for such litigation.

    Please note that the civil damages and/or penalties request in this letter are in addition to any crimnial penalty. If you have been prosecuted, you still owe these civil damages and/or penalties.

    Please use the attached payment coupon to make payment by credit card of send a cashier's check, money ordde or other verified funds.
    On the back it says California Penal Code 490.5 and there's like a page of stuff.

    What should I do at this point? Consult a lawyer or pay this fine? I don't know if they filed a police report against me, I haven't received any court paper yet. Who should I contact to find out if I have been prosecuted?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Behind a Desk
    Posts
    74,046

    Default Re: Caught shoplifting at Wal-Mart, received letter today. Please Help.

    That's called a civil demand letter, which is authorized by statute in most states and permits a store to demand a civil settlement from a shoplifter. Paying the fine has nothing to do with any potential criminal charge, and will not result in the dismissal of a criminal charge, although it sounds like there has been no police involvement in your case.

    It's up to you to decide if you want to pay the civil demand, or wait and see if they actually sue you or try to make a late report of the incident to the police (if in fact it wasn't reported). Most people seem to play it safe by paying the demand.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Location
    CA
    Posts
    54

    Default Re: Caught shoplifting at Wal-Mart, received letter today. Please Help.

    In the state of California, the civil demand can be between $50 and $500. It's possible they could raise the amount to $500 if you don't pay by May 31. I Don't think you should take the chance. Consider yourself lucky that the police were not involved and pay the civil fine.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Posts
    4

    Default Re: Caught shoplifting at Wal-Mart, received letter today. Please Help.

    Sounds just like a scam or extortion.

    Since the $20.00 in products probably were not even opened and therefore undamaged and fully merchantable what kind of civil claim does Wal-Mart have? I'd like to hear how the requested claim amount was calculated.

    It looks like you are simply being extorted because of the embarassing situation that you have put yourself in. Contact your local DA to see what you should do and ask if you are being defrauded.

    The advice given in the preceding post (just pay and feel lucky) sure didn't come from an attorney. I'd bet a hundred bucks this advice comes from one of the collection scam artists who is profiting from this dirty little scam.

    Get legal advice. Try the DA (anonymously) first.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Michigan
    Posts
    28,637

    Default Re: Caught shoplifting at Wal-Mart, received letter today. Please Help.

    The purpose of a civil demand law is not to reimburse for the cost of the items stolen - the statutes specify that the amount is in addition to the value of any merchandise that is not recovered or cannot be resold. The purpose is to defray some of the cost of having to deal with shoplifters.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Posts
    4

    Default Re: Caught shoplifting at Wal-Mart, received letter today.

    There is nothing in the statute (ca penal code 490.5) that specifically allows for the merchant's transference of their ongoing security costs to the shoplifter. None. You put yourself over a barrel, but you don't have to let 'em make you squeal like a pig.

    I can understand some businesses try to pass off the costs to thieves but this sounds like an abuse and an expansion of the use of the penal code as it has been written.

    This "claim letter" situation sounds like a problem that is limited to California. I'm going to request more info from my local DA and the State Attorney General tomorrow and will post what I get then.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Location
    CA
    Posts
    54

    Default Re: Caught shoplifting at Wal-Mart, received letter today.

    booklocker, please get a clue before you post your brainless advice. Just about every state allows civil demand and just about every company sends civil demand letters to people who come into their store and commit a crime. Yeah, you check with the local DA, report the crime of civil demand letters, they could use a good laugh.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Posts
    4

    Default Re: Caught shoplifting at Wal-Mart, received letter today.

    Getting legal advice prior to paying up on a dubious claim is "brainless"? Bubbamania (collection agent) thinks you should roll over at fork out your money to this shady claim but an attorney will tell you otherwise. Get legal advice, learn the law and protect yourself.

    This is nothing but a shakedown. Taking advantage of people when they are most vulnerable is a lowlife act and very unethical. In the above stated case, Wal-Mart wants 11 times the value of the (likely undamaged) goods. Who is the eventual/actual crook and opportunist in this story?

    Sending out a claim letter is certainly allowed. However for business to assert a claim when there are not any damages and the returned stolen items are saleable is not specifically ALLOWED for in the code.

    DA/State AG opinion to follow.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Location
    CA
    Posts
    54

    Default Re: Caught shoplifting at Wal-Mart, received letter today.

    You don't think there are damages to be paid. Just because the items is placed back on the shelf and sold, doesn't mean there wasn't any losses. Processing a shoplifter can take hours. During this time, other things are being stolen, other work is not being done, paper work is being generated, video tapes have to be held as evidence and later, an employee may have to appear in court. Who should pay for all of that. You think the company should eat that loss because a thief came into their store and committed a crime. Sure an attorney will tell you not to pay. They don't get any of the money, and if the matter is pressed by the store, there is possibly more work for the attorney to get paid.
    This is ALLOWED BY LAW. It clearly states, in CA "$50 - $500".
    Sure one has the choice of not paying.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Posts
    4

    Default Re: Caught shoplifting at Wal-Mart, received letter today.

    My kid was with two kids who'd been caught shoplifting. In her case, Nordstrom's errantly sent me a bill (my kid was released without any charges) but it made me wonder about the legality of a business making such a claim. That's what brought me here. I read your advice and knew, from what I'd read, that it was poor and very likely self serving advice. If someone uninformed goes online and reads, 'You're lucky. Just pay up.', a less educated person is more likely to do that. Makes it easier for the collection agents. I think this type of attempt to recoup money from (particularly the less educated or those less able to get legal help) to be an unfair business practice, and wrong. Talk about kicking someone while their down. Stealing is wrong, and I don't excuse either side for ripping someone off.

    So Bubbamania, what keeps you lurking around here spurting advice? What's your tie-in with shoplifting?

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