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Is shoplifting really worth the risk?

If you are like most California residents, you do not take shoplifting very seriously. In fact, you may view shoplifting as a little adventure with no real victim because “everyone knows” that merchants often overinflate their prices so as to make an exorbitant profit off their customers. Therefore, you really do not harm the merchant much if you walk out of the store without paying for something you “bought.” Thinking this way, however, can land you in serious legal trouble.

FindLaw explains that shoplifting represents one type of theft crime that both merchants and the law take very seriously. It costs merchants, and consequently consumers, millions of dollars each year.

Shoplifting elements

As with every crime, shoplifting contains several elements, specifically the following four:

  1. That you deliberately concealed and/or took possession of one or more items the merchant offered for sale
  2. That you took the merchant’s property without his or her permission
  3. That you fully intended to deprive the merchant of this property
  4. That you fully intended not to pay for the property you took


You should never put any merchandise in your pocket, purse, shopping bag, etc. before paying for it. Even if your intent is only to make the item(s) easier to carry, such activity on your part leaves you vulnerable to a concealment allegation. Remember, virtually all stores nowadays contain surveillance equipment, and a surveillance tape of you concealing merchandise, however innocently, is damning evidence against you.

You likewise would do well to refrain from lingering too long in a certain aisle or before a particular display when deciding what to buy. Such activity makes you a suspicious person in the eyes of the merchant and his or her employees.

In-store detention

Bear in mind that under the law, a store’s employees can detain you if they reasonably suspect that you shoplifted something. They can even follow you out the door and into the parking lot to detain you before you drive off in your car. Once detained, they can question you and keep you detained until law enforcement officials arrive. The only things that store employees cannot do are to treat you harshly or threateningly or keep you detained against your will for an overly long period of time.

This is general educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.

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