Shoplifting laws favor retailers
NEW YORK — Outside the view of paying customers, people accused of shoplifting at Macy's flagship store are escorted by security guards to cells in “Room 140,” where they can be held for hours, asked to sign an admission of guilt and pay hundreds in fines, sometimes without any conclusive proof they stole anything.
As shoppers jam stores in the run-up to Christmas, claims of racial profiling at stores in New York have exposed the wide latitude that laws in at least 27 states give retailers to hold and fine shoplifting suspects.
“You must remember, these people are not police officers; they are store employees,” said Faruk Usar, the attorney for a 62-year-old Turkish woman who sued Macy's, which some customers say bullied them into paying fines on the spot or harassed them with letters demanding payment. “When they are detained, they are not yet even in a real jail.”
Industrywide, more than $12 billion is lost to shoplifting each year. The laws, which vary on strictness and fine amounts, allow stores to try to recoup some losses. Under New York's longstanding law, retailers may collect a penalty of five times the cost of the stolen merchandise, up to $500 per item, plus as much as $1,500 if the merchandise isn't in a condition to be sold. A conviction is not necessary to bring a civil claim.
Some customers say stores have harassed them into signing admissions of guilt in order to turn a profit — not just recoup a loss.
At least nine customers at the Macy's store immortalized in “Miracle on 34th Street” say in lawsuits that the retailer is abusing the law — wrongly targeting minorities and holding customers for hours — years after it settled similar claims brought by the state attorney general by paying a $600,000 fine and changing practices. That agreement expired in 2008.
Usar's client, Ayla Gursoy, was detained in 2010 when she carried two coats in her arms up several flights of stairs in the flagship store, according to her suit. Store security accused Gursoy, who speaks little English, of trying to steal. She was asked to sign a form admitting guilt and pay a fine. She refused. The police were called, and she was arrested.
Gursoy and others say they were held for hours in Room 140, a bare room with two small, barred holding cells with wooden benches within the store.
Many retailers detain suspected shoplifters, industry experts said, but few have dedicated jail cells, and most don't ask for payments on the spot like Macy's.
Most of the accused receive letters in the mail demanding payment from a law firm.
Lawyers say retailers rarely actually sue for the money, and they often suggest letter recipients don't bother paying because refusing won't affect their credit.
Generally, industry experts say, the laws allowing retailers to hold and fine suspected shoplifters are applied correctly.
“Retailers do a really good job of identifying where actual theft cases have occurred and intervening and conducting investigations,” said Joseph LaRocca, who runs RetaiLPartners, an industry group aimed at building partnerships between retailers and law enforcement. “There are always exceptions, but by and large, there are few mistakes here.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Supreme Court justices ream EPA for ignoring costs to meet air standards
- Snappers treat revitalizes Lawrenceville’s Edward Marc Brands chocolatier
- Heinz executives to dominate post-merger management of Kraft Heinz Co.
- Bank of New York Mellon seeks to intervene in N.J. casino saga as power plant taps collateral
- Drillers to submit electronic records on fracking chemicals to Pa. DEP
- Pending home sales in U.S. climb to 9-year high
- Teen retailer American Eagle Outfitters goes mobile, revamps site
- Greece makes stocks slip to worst day of year
- Innovative desk makers take stand against sitting at work
- University mine rescue teams join to set rules, competitions
- Big Heart Pet Brands to leave Pittsburgh, affecting 225 jobs