Imagine you’re shopping in a busy store. You see a cute piece of jewelry that you really like but can’t afford. Seeing that the store is crowded, and the staff members are preoccupied, a thought crosses your mind, “What if I just slip this into my pocket?”
You look around. No one seems to be watching. With a racing heart, you decide to take the risk and walk out the door. Unfortunately, you’ve just committed retail theft, a crime that can have severe repercussions in Pennsylvania, impacting you for years to come.
In this blog post, we will discuss what retail theft charges entail in Pennsylvania, what has to be proven in a court of law to be found guilty of it, and the penalties you face if convicted. We’ll also look at the potential long-term effects of a retail theft conviction on your life and future.
What Is Retail Theft?
According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP), retailers in America lose over $13 billion every year due to shoplifting. Retail theft, which is otherwise known as shoplifting, occurs when someone takes an item from a store without paying for it or attempts to pay for an item with a fraudulent or stolen form of payment.
This criminal offense can range from small items such as candy bars to large, expensive items like electronics. It can also involve stealing services such as hacking into cable TV lines. Retail theft can occur in brick-and-mortar stores, online stores, or any shop where items are exchanged for money.
What Are Some Examples of Retail Theft?
Retail theft in Pennsylvania can be manifested in several ways, including but not limited to:
- Shoplifting: The most common form of retail theft, shoplifting involves taking merchandise from a store or shop without paying for it.
- Fraudulent Returns: This theft charge involves returning stolen property or merchandise to gain refunds or credit.
- Selling of Stolen Goods: This commonly overlooked retail theft involves the act of selling items or property stolen that have been unlawfully obtained.
- Price Switching: This crime is when you switch one price tag marking on an item with another to purchase it at a lower cost than the full retail value.
- Employee Theft: This occurs when employees steal merchandise, cash, misuse discount privileges, or under-rings merchandise at a cash register.
- Burglary: This serious crime is when you break into a store outside business hours to steal merchandise.
- Robbery: This involves the use of force or threat to steal from a store.
- Use of Booster Boxes: These are specially designed bags or clothing used to avoid detection of stolen items.
Each of these retail theft crimes has different criminal penalties under the law in Pennsylvania, depending on the value of the merchandise stolen, prior offenses, and your existing criminal record.
Other Types of Retail Theft
Beyond the common forms of retail theft already listed, there are additional ways that you can commit this crime, either with criminal intent or without knowing.
Organized Retail Theft
Organized Retail Theft (ORT) is a more complex form of theft that involves a group of individuals systematically stealing large amounts of goods with the intent to resell the stolen merchandise.
Unlike opportunistic shoplifters, these organized crime groups often operate across multiple stores and even states, making the impact of their crimes far-reaching.
Credit Card Fraud
Not only is it considered identity theft, but credit card fraud is also a retail theft crime as well. It’s one of the most pervasive forms of theft and can occur in several ways. This crime occurs when credit card information obtained solely through deceptive practices is used unlawfully, and you trick the cardholder into revealing their card details.
Alternatively, it is also the use of card skimming devices placed on card readers to steal data directly from the card’s security strip. Once such identification is obtained, unauthorized purchases can be made on the card, often online, where physical possession of the card isn’t necessary.
Gift Card Fraud
Gift card fraud is when you steal activated gift cards or manipulate the activation process to acquire unauthorized gift cards. It can also be when stolen credit card information is used to purchase gift cards online from retail stores, which are later used to buy merchandise or resell for cash.
Given the monetary value of gift cards and the lack of security, it can be difficult to trace where the money was spent. That’s why gift card fraud is a particularly dangerous form of retail theft and can happen unknowingly.
What Are the Penalties for Retail Theft in PA?
In Pennsylvania, the penalties for retail theft can vary significantly based on the value of the stolen goods and the individual’s previous offenses.
For the first offense, if the full retail value of the stolen items is less than $150, it is considered a summary offense and may result in a fine of up to $250, imprisonment for up to 90 days, or both.
First Degree Misdemeanor
For a first or second offense and the value was between $200 and $2,000, it becomes a misdemeanor of the first degree. This is punishable by a fine that is no less than $1,500 and no more than $10,000, and imprisonment for up to five years.
Second Degree Misdemeanor
For a second offense of theft and the value of the merchandise involved is at least $50 but less than $200, this crime is considered a misdemeanor in the second degree. If convicted of this, the penalty imposed could be to face up to two years in prison and a fine of not less than $500 and not more than $5,000.
Third Degree Felony Theft
If you have stolen a motor vehicle or a firearm, if the full retail value of such merchandise is more than $2,000, but less than $100,00 or another subsequent offense, it is considered a felony of the third degree. This level of crime is punishable by a fine of no less than $2,500 and no more than $15,000 and imprisonment for up to seven years.
Other Circumstances Surrounding Your Theft Charge
Beyond the criminal proceedings and hefty fines, you may also be civilly liable to the merchant for the retail value of the merchandise if it is not returned in a reasonable manner or sellable condition. You may also be liable to pay the other party’s attorney fees or for additional legal assistance.
How Retail Theft Affects Your Future
Retail theft charges can lead to severe long-term repercussions in terms of your future. A conviction for theft could appear on your permanent record, which potential employers, landlords, or educational institutions may check during their screening process.
This mark on your record may jeopardize opportunities for jobs, housing, or education. Additionally, having a theft conviction may cause insurance rates to increase, as insurers may see you as a risk. The social stigma attached to theft can also impact personal relationships and result in a loss of trust and respect in both your personal and professional life.
When You Need a Retail Theft Crimes Attorney in Lancaster, PA, Let Marinaro Law Firm Help
When you or someone you love has a retail theft charge, call on the only criminal defense lawyer and theft crimes attorney in Lancaster, PA, to do the job at Marinaro Law Firm. Our experience as criminal defense attorneys is here to help you get the justice you deserve from your theft case. Schedule your legal consultation today, and have a team that’s dedicated to fighting your theft crime.