Self-checkouts and theft: What if store managers think I stole something?
Self-checkouts are supposed to provide customers with an easy and quick way to get out of a store. Self-checkouts often have smaller lines and move quickly. They allow customers some autonomy over their purchases while also helping reduce the store’s need to hire additional staff. Although it seems like a great option, use of self-checkouts can come with some serious drawbacks.
One of the most notable: allegations of theft. This can result from an honest mistake, thinking you rang something up when you did not or from the store making blatantly false allegations of criminal wrongdoing against its customers.
Why would stores make false allegations of theft?
It seems like a waste of time, but a recent example shows just how profitable false allegations of theft can prove for large retailers. The example that got recent media attention began with a malfunctioning scanner. The self-checkout scanner at a Walmart store was not working, which led store managers to accuse a customer of theft. The store accused her of less than $50 in theft of items like Christmas lights and a loaf of bread.
The state dropped the criminal charges, but Walmart continued to demand payment. They claimed that the customer needed to pay a $200 fine to settle the matter. If not, they threatened to sue — to move forward with a civil lawsuit against the customer.
This is not the first time Walmart has used this tactic. The retail mega giant has done the same with over 1.4 million customers throughout the country over the last two years. This has led the store to collect an estimated $300 million through letters like the one above demanding the customer pay a $200 settlement. This payout has motivated stores like Walmart to continue with these allegations.
What happens if a store accuses me of theft after using a self-checkout?
It is a natural response to want to make this just disappear after dealing with the embarrassment of an arrest after shopping at a store. Although tempting, agreeing to a plea deal will not make everything go away — it can result in a criminal record that can have a huge impact on your future.
The penalties that come with a conviction for theft are also severe. The details depend on the allegations and the state, as state law guides these matters. In Colorado, theft of items totaling less than $50 can result in charges for petty theft. Penalties can include up to 6 months imprisonment and a $500 fine. The penalties increase with the value of the allegedly stolen object.
These penalties are severe, but defenses are available. It is important to review the evidence, including any potential video or security footage from the retailer. An attorney experienced in these matters can review your case and discuss the best legal strategy for your situation.