Defending Against Retail Fraud Charges: Types, Consequences, and the Role of a Skilled Attorney
All types of retail fraud offenses are serious and have significant consequences for individuals and businesses. There are numerous types of retail fraud, such as shoplifting, price switching, and fraudulent returns, and each type has its own repercussions.
Shoplifting is the most common type of retail fraud, and it occurs when an individual steals merchandise from a store. Shoplifting can take many forms, from concealing items in a bag or pocket to switching price tags to paying for a lower-priced item than the one taken.
The consequences of shoplifting can be severe, depending on the value of the items stolen. In many cases, the offender may face fines, community service, or probation. However, more serious shoplifting cases can result in jail time, especially if the value of the stolen items exceeds a certain threshold.
The most common form of retail fraud in Michigan is self-scanner fraud. Notably, the most common form of false allegations by loss prevention is also self-scanner fraud. There are various forms of fraud at the self-checkout, including failure to scan items, scanning less expensive items, and concealing items while checking out. Self-scanners malfunction all the time. Anyone with a cell phone knows technology is not perfect and often glitches. Is someone guilty of self-checkout fraud if the scanner glitched, not the shopper? No! Also, people make mistakes. Sometimes, people can intend to check out and scan all of their items but be genuinely mistaken about whether an item scanned properly.
Price Tag Switching
Price switching is a type of retail fraud involving changing item price tags to pay a lower price than the actual value. This can be done by switching tags between items or creating false barcodes to scan at checkout.
The consequences of price switching can be significant, particularly if the offender is caught and prosecuted. Depending on the value of the items and the extent of the fraud, the offender may face fines, community service, or even jail time.
There are two types of fraudulent return retail fraud, returning items never purchased and tagging and returning replacement merchandise. In the first scenario, someone would attempt to return stolen merchandise while pretending it was lawfully purchased. Tagging retail fraud occurs when someone makes a legitimate purchase, switches the tags to fraudulent or less expensive merchandise, and returns the item for the original purchase price.
Wardrobing retail fraud occurs when someone purchases merchandise, typically expensive clothing, wears it, and then returns it as if it were unused.
Discount manipulation occurs when someone knowingly takes advantage of an illegitimate discount. For example, if someone knows that a discount is expired and intentionally conceals the expiration date from a cashier, the prosecutor would consider that retail fraud. Another example of discount manipulation would occur if someone manipulated a bar or QR code to increase a legitimate discount or create one the store hadn’t offered.
Consequences of All Types of Retail Fraud
The direct consequences of all types of retail fraud include jail, probation, and fines. The maximum possible incarceration ranges from 93 days to 15 years in prison, depending on the value of the merchandice and the accused’s prior criminal record. Misdemeanor retail fraud carries a maximum sentence of 93 days or one year in jail and up to two (2) years of probation. Felony retail fraud has a five (5) year maximum jail and probation terms, which can increase to 15 years with prior felony convictions. Probation might include any of the following terms and conditions:
- travel restrictions,
- mandatory employment or education,
- drug and alcohol testing and prohibition,
- theft education classes,
- firearm restrictions,
- reporting requirements,
- prohibited use of credit cards or bank accounts,
- restrictions on entering retail establishments, and
- payment of fines, costs, and supervision fees.
Indirect or Collateral Consequences
In addition to the potential direct consequences of a retail fraud conviction, the indirect or collateral consequences might be even more severe because their impact can be lifelong. Examples include the following:
- inability to obtain or advance in employment,
- loss or restriction on a professional license,
- immigration consequences for non-U.S. citizens (such as deportation),
- damaged reputation,
- removal from or inability to join charitable organizations,
- loss of civil rights (such as the right to vote or possess firearms), and
- damaged credit rating.
A Skilled Attorney Can Help You Protect Your Rights
A skilled attorney, however, can assist in defending against these charges by examining the evidence against the defendant, identifying weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, and negotiating with the prosecutor to seek alternative sentencing options. If you or someone you know is facing retail fraud charges, it is crucial to seek the advice of a knowledgeable and experienced attorney to protect your rights and ensure the best possible outcome.
Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.