We are lawyers who will talk to you for free if you’ve received a civil demand letter from a store and offer advice on how to handle it. If you would like to talk to an attorney, you can call us anytime at 800-517-1614.
A common scenario that happens to a lot of people is that a store accuses them of stealing something when they didn’t. There are a lot of reasons that happens. Sometimes it’s racism. Sometimes they just suspect teens are doing things they aren’t. Other times it’s a mistake.
Not everyone in this situation gets charged with retail theft. A lot of stores will just say they are going to ban you from the store or give you a harsh verbal warning. Whether you are innocent or not, what often happens next is odd and possibly illegal.
A couple weeks or months go by (or in one case we were contacted about, years) and you get a civil demand letter from a representative of the store, usually a law firm. What is a civil demand letter?
It’s when a store sends you a letter that asks them to pay them a certain amount – $400.00 seems to be a common figure – to compensate them for any losses they might have occurred from your alleged retail theft. They send these letters even when nothing was taken or damaged and they have no losses at all. They send these letters at times even when they made a mistake in accusing you. Sometimes they say it’s for paying a loss prevention person for having to deal with the situation. Other times they will call it a “re-stocking fee” as if it costs a few hundred dollars to put a sweater back on a shelf. It’s almost always nonsense.
Over the years we’ve seen letters like this come from Target, Walmart, Menards, Macy’s and many others. Why do they do this when they are asking for what is relatively little money for them and they’ve suffered no harm? The answer is because people will pay it. It’s estimated that stores get hundreds of millions a year in payments from people who are scared or think they have to pay this.
Quite often the letters imply that if you don’t pay that charges could be pressed still or that they will sue you and ask for thousands. Should you pay it? The answer depends, but often we tell people no. In fact, sometimes these letters could actually lead to you having a lawsuit against the company and/or the law firm who sent the letter.
If you do pay it and don’t make clear that you dispute the allegation, you could be handing them evidence that could be used against you in a criminal trial. The only reason to pay is if you are worried they will actually sue, but even then it’s best to try to negotiate down to a lower amount and make sure that they can’t go after you for anything else.
We can’t guarantee they won’t sue you if you don’t pay, but often they don’t because the dollar amounts are too small or they know that you did nothing wrong. We are happy to discuss with you for free and in confidence what you should do and also go over whether or not you may have a lawsuit against them.