Imagine this: You’re peacefully browsing through a store and minding your own business when suddenly you’re approached by store security and accused of shoplifting.
If you’re like most people, you’re going to feel some combination of outrage, humiliation and fear – and you may not be sure how to handle the situation. Here are five distinct steps you can follow that may help you protect your rights and navigate these challenging moments.
Being falsely accused of shoplifting can create an emotionally charged situation, but it’s essential to remain as calm as possible. Take some deep breaths and remind yourself that there’s nothing to be gained by losing your cool and making a scene.
Don’t try to flee
Resisting the security guard or attempting to flee the store can escalate the situation and potentially turn into a dangerous physical altercation. Something known as “shopkeeper’s privilege” does give the store security the right to detain you for a reasonable amount of time if they have probable cause to believe you’ve been shoplifting.
Don’t try to explain or argue
If store security has pulled you into an office and leveled an accusation against you, they already believe you’re guilty – and nothing you say is likely to change their minds. Saying the wrong thing, however, could be very detrimental to you if you end up in court, so it’s best to simply remain silent. You’re not even under any obligation to give store security your identifying information. Wait until the police arrive (if they are called) to provide any personal information.
Don’t offer to pay
A lot of “shoplifting” involves someone merely forgetting they tucked an item on the bottom rack of their cart and then leaving the store. While you may think that immediately offering to pay for the forgotten item will solve the problem, that could be seen as tantamount to an admission of theft.
Don’t sign anything
The store security or owners may tell you that you have to sign a document that says you were caught attempting to steal before they let you go, but you don’t. They cannot keep you indefinitely, and they have no power to force you to sign anything – and you certainly don’t want to hand them anything that could be later used as evidence against you.
A lot of times, store security personnel don’t really know what to do when their attempt to bully a suspected shoplifter into compliance doesn’t work. By staying calm and asserting your rights, you may end up walking away from the whole situation with little more than a sour feeling. If the situation does result in your arrest, however, you’ll have made your defense much easier.