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Shoplifting may sound like a minor thing. After all, you may have taken things from stores as a kid just for the thrill of it or when your allowance didn't stretch enough for you to afford things you wanted. As an adult, you may not be aware of the true consequences of shoplifting.

Retailers lose billions of dollars each year to shoplifting and other kinds of theft, and this loss is not easy to absorb, especially for a small business owner. This is why many retail establishments are becoming more diligent about prevent shoplifting and are more willing to prosecute those they catch in the act.

Shoplifting is not always the same as theft

If police or store security stopped you while you were browsing, you may have been surprised when they accused you of shoplifting. After all, you had not left the store, so technically you hadn't stolen anything. However, in New Jersey, the offense of shoplifting may involve any of the following:

  • Taking unpaid merchandise out of the store
  • Transferring price tags from a cheaper item to a more expensive item
  • Altering or changing the information on a price tag
  • Concealing an item in your clothing, on your body or in your bag

Even if you do not leave the store with the item, employees or security may assume you intend to take the item without paying and may call police to arrest you. The value of the item the retailer alleges you shoplifted will determine the level of the charge and the subsequent penalties for conviction.

The consequences of shoplifting

If you are convicted of shoplifting, it will likely cost you much more than the cost of the item the store owner accused you of taking. You may end up paying a fine, which may reach $10,000 for an item less than $500 in value. You risk paying restitution to the owner, covering the court costs, and serving a sentence of jail time or community service. You will also have a mark on your record for the rest of your life.

Facing accusations of shoplifting can be stressful and upsetting, especially if the store employee or security misunderstood your intentions. You would be wise to say as little as possible to authorities until you have a chance to seek counsel from an attorney who is knowledgeable in New Jersey's property crimes laws.

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