TribLIVE

| Business

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Shoplifting laws favor retailers

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

On the Grid

From the shale fields to the cooling towers, Trib Total Media covers the energy industry in Western Pennsylvania and beyond. For the latest news and views on gas, coal, electricity and more, check out On the Grid today.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By The Associated Press
Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

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.”

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Business Headlines

  1. Shell shovels millions into proposed Beaver County plant site
  2. Off-duty but on call: Suits seek overtime
  3. Extended oil slump takes toll
  4. Muni bond funds stressed
  5. Companies hand out perks, benefits instead of pay raises
  6. When it comes to home ownership, Hispanics finding locked doors
  7. Bond funds hold onto cash
  8. Of Caitlyn Jenner and workplace restrooms
  9. Tech Q&A: Why you should test your router
  10. $2-per-gallon gas expected by year’s end, but not in Western Pa.
  11. Travelers find direct Web route to Priory’s spirited past in North Side