What counts as retail theft?

On Behalf of | Sep 6, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Retail theft, or shoplifting, has become a significant problem post-pandemic. The issue has become so big that many stores have resorted to locking up merchandise behind display cases to deter theft – at the expense of inconveniencing customers.

But how severe is retail theft across America? According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, retailers lost about $94.5 billion to retail theft in 2021 alone. It’s also believed that retail theft only worsened over the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the last five years, about 70% of retailers said that shoplifting became a more widespread threat. Similarly, 53% of consumers indicated that shoplifting increased in their communities since the pandemic.

North Carolina prohibits retail theft; anyone convicted of shoplifting can face severe penalties. But what exactly counts as shoplifting?

Concealing merchandise is retail theft

According to state law, anyone caught willfully concealing unpaid goods while still within the store’s premises can face retail theft charges. A conviction is a Class 3 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum $200 fine and up to 30 days in jail. This jail time may be suspended if the convicted performs at least 24 hours of community service as recompense.

For a second offense committed within three years, the convicted faces a Class 2 misdemeanor. The penalties include a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to 60 days in jail. But a conviction becomes a Class 1 misdemeanor for a third or subsequent offense within five years. The convicted must serve up to 120 days of jail time, and while there’s no maximum fine assessed, a judge can assign any value at their discretion.

Switching price tags is retail theft

North Carolina also prohibits anyone from transferring price tags from one merchandise to another to pay for lower prices. The penalties are similar to the ones for concealing goods, so the convicted faces a Class 3 misdemeanor for their first offense, a Class 2 misdemeanor for their second offense and a Class 1 misdemeanor for their third or subsequent offense.

Using a booster bag is retail theft

Per law, anyone who conceals unpaid merchandise using a “booster bag” is also guilty of retail fraud. A booster bag can refer to an aluminum or lead-lined bag or article of clothing that can block the signals of anti-shoplifting devices. Using a booster bag can lead to charges separate from other shoplifting offenses, and a conviction leads to a Class H felony. Penalties include up to 25 months in prison and a court-determined fine.

Retail theft takes several forms, and even a simple act of swapping price tags can be prosecuted. And with shoplifting becoming a major problem nationwide, retailers won’t hesitate to accuse anyone suspicious of theft. Anyone who faces charges should consider preparing a strong defense for their court hearing.