Merchant vs. Shoplifter questions

What right do stores have to search you or your belongings? Or perhaps better asked, what right do I have to ignore some minimum wage goon at Best Buy?

The background to this question is simple: After purchasing something, you are expected to show your receipt to the chucklehead at the door, who then signs off on your receipt. At the register, I had put a couple of things in my backpack and left the rest in my shopping bag. When asked to be shown the other items (by the door-patrol), I refused permission to search in my backpack. The store was crowded, the line at the door was backing up, and after a minute of verbal going-back-and-forths, I simply walked away. I’m 31, have never shoplifted in my life, and did nothing to warrant their searching my property other than to walk into their store. There was nothing illegal or embarrassing in my backpack. I was just in a hurry, and did not feel like giving up yet another small piece of privacy and dignity.

When I was there this past weekend, I noticed that there is an 81/2 X 11 piece of paper (quite small in comparison to the rest of the storefront) that said ‘We reserve the right to search all packages.’

So, lawyers and WAGers, anyone have the SD on where the line is between my right to be left alone and the store’s right to protect its property? Can they, merely by displaying a sign, demand access to anything and everything I have in my possession? What about such a small, easily overlooked sign? Do I have the right to refuse them? Can I insist that they call the police to do it? Do I have to wait in the store for that? What about just in their own shopping bag, after I have paid for the merchandise? If they don’t have the right, but some punk has it up his ass that he does, what can I do to protect myself from his nosey hands? If he touches me, can I get away with (of course, after politely telling him to let go) popping out his kneecap? Can I have him arrested for assault (or is that battery)? Would I have legal recourse against the store?

Sheesh… a lot of questions. All I remember from my retail days (ten or so years ago) is that we were told by our corporate loss-prevention department not to touch or ask to search anyone unless we had direct knowledge that the person had shoplifted. Anything you have to say / think on this will be appreciated. BTW, if it makes a difference, I live in the District, and the BB is in Virginia. And please don’t excoriate me for shopping at Best Buy. I have to rely on the Metro, and it is one of the few places I can get to. Thanks!

Once in a while you can get shown the light
in the strangest of places
if you look at it right…

There is case law that gives stores - private property owners - the right to search packages or customers if they have a reasonable belief that there is a risk of theft involved. I think that the only proof of this risk needs to be statistics that show the store has a history of shoplifting. In fact I think the stores prefer it this way because they would rather avoid any of the messy legal situations that might arise if they selectively profiled shoppers and only checked those customers that “looked” like they might be shoplifting, even if that method is probably much more accurate to the store in the long run and less inconvenient to the majority of shoppers.

Most Best Buy stores here in Houston still ask for a receipt, and the Wal-Mart near my house used to as well, but I think they got so many complaints that they stopped. It might be worth noting that this particular Wal-Mart is in a predominantly ethnic neighborhood, so my guess is someone accused them of racial prejudice anyway (even though they asked EVERYONE coming out of the store) so they just decided to stop and cut short future problems.

When I livied in Boston, I was very rudely accosted by a plainclothes guard, working on little more than faulty logic, who accused me of stealing a CD from a grocery store (Star Market on Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton). They ended up letting me go when I threatened to sue - he admitted he hadn’t actually seen me conceal anything.

I wrote a nasty letter to the Star Market corporation and to the manager of the store and in return I got a VERY cordial phone call from the corporate Director of Loss Prevention who explained all of the various rules and laws that the company follows. He also apologized quite a bit and I ended up offering me $200 in free groceries, so I’ll give Star Market credit - they were very customer oriented.

Why do you expect to be scorned for shopping at Best Buy? I go there and have for a long time, even when I worked for their major competitor.

You say in your defense that you are 31 and have never shoplifted. How is this relevant, and how is the chucklehead at the door supposed to know this?

I don’t think anybody has a right to detain you unless they have seen you shoplift, in which case they may very well chase after & tackle you. The chucklehead at the door should ask you to check your bags so you don’t go in with them in the first place. If you decline to do this then they can deny your entrance to the store and that takes care of that.

The grey area: once you’ve paid for your items, they are legally yours- I don’t see how you can be forced to show them to anybody. We are probably consenting to do something that we’re not legally obligated to do. Most of us comply because we’re sympathetic to the retailer’s anti-shoplifting crusade. When I am asked to show my goodies on the way out, I understand that the place is just trying to keep theft under control. I have never been in that much of a hurry that I couldn’t stop for 15 seconds and open my bags. And even if my stuff was all bundled-up in backpacks or whatever, that might make me, what, a whole minute late?.

Recent polls revealed that some people have never been polled, until recently.

Actually, HE offered me the groceries. Oops. :slight_smile:

Basically, what you did was right. The door guard could ask permission to search your backpack, but without your OK, there’s not much else to do about it. You were right to walk away and the guard was right in not pressing the issue.

I had to respond to a store where an overzealous security guard had three women (one elderly) facing a wall getting ready to frisk. When I asked him what was the reason for this, he replied “I think one of the ladies was shoplifting.” When I asked what probable cause did he have, he replied “I go by hunches, just like you guys”.

I figured out this guy had watched one too many episodes of COPS and politely advised him unless he was ready to face the Mother Of All Lawsuits, he’d better make nicey-nicey with the ladies and hope to God they will forget the entire issue. There was also the criminal charge of unlawful detention that I could’ve whipped up on him, but I decided to just restore the status quo, if all parties were agreeable. Fortunately it all went the way I wanted it to go (which is a first).

In closing, I invited the overzealous guard on a ride-along with me, partially to show that real life is not NYPD Blue or Third Watch. People like that need to watch the Discovery Channel.

…send lawyers, guns, and money…

       Warren Zevon

I know what it feels like to be in the situation, but let’s look at it objectively.

  1. in all the best buy’s that i’ve been in, the door is right by the registers. So you have time to pack you backpack with some of the stuff, but don’t have time to reopen it?
    It’s not like they followed you out to your car and asked you there.

  2. was your moment of verbal back and forths quicker than opening your pack?

  3. did you see the guy standing there when you came in, have you ever been in a best buy before? did you put your stuff in your pack at the register or in the ten feet between register and door guard?

I didn’t here your bantering at the store, but he didn’t ask you accusingly or do anything out of the ordinary did he?

We live in an age that reads too much to be wise, and thinks too much to be beautiful–Oscar Wilde

Wow! Questions galore! From my years in retail in the state of GA:

That line is generally at the door. If you go in you play by their rules.

They don’t even have to display a sign. Remember, rights pertain to government interaction, laws pertain to private interaction. Is there a law in VA that limits the store’s options? If not, you’re stuck.

Again, rights don’t apply here. You certainly have the option to refuse. Unless the store is confident enough to persue shoplifting charges, there is not much they can do outside of asking you never to return.

Police enforce laws, not store policy. Unless a law is being broken (by store personnel or you) the police will not get involved.

It’s their store, they make the rules and so long as those rules do not conflict with a law they stick. Your option, if you don’t like the rules, is to shop elsewhere.

Now you are talking legal issues and what constitutes assault and or battery under the law. Too many gray areas here for me to comment. Any takers?

The overwhelming majority of people have more than the average (mean) number of legs. – E. Grebenik

I have a question sort of along with this - When I used to go to concerts the male security guards would frisk the male patrons but not the females, recently however, I have noticed they frisk the women now too. My question is, if a male security guard asks attempts to frisk you or whatever, what right, if any do you have to ask for a female? Can you request the same from a police officer?

This is a matter of principle, so really, whether Rythmdvl saved time or not, if the guard didn’t have any authority to search his back-pack, he should have stood his ground. (which he did…yay!)
What I don’t understand is, why did the guard think, based on the situation, that Rhythm may have stolen something? He saw the receipt. He saw fewer items in hand than on the receipt. Why does he have to see the rest? I can see if he looked at a receipt with five items and Rhythm was standing there with ten items, that he would want to investigate further to see if anything else was stolen. Why did he think a crime had been committed when he saw Rhythm carrying not enough items? Doesn’t make sense. I think the guard was just being a pain in the butt.

i worked in a toy store and the shoplifting policy was, if we get our stuff back we don’t prosecute.(unless it’s an employee, then you’re in trouble)
just suspecting someone of shoplifting isn’t good enough, we must actually * see* them take something.

i suspect our chain was sued in the past.

a friend manages another toy store in a different state(not the same chain) and she can(and has) search and physically detain shoplifters until the police arrive. but again, only if she sees them take something.

I’m pink therefore I’m Spam

You can certainly request a female security guard do the search, but until then, the management reserves the right to deny entry pending arrival of a female staff member.

A police officer can search a member of the opposite sex if the situation warrants it, i.e. unavailability of female/male backup, the nature of the incident, safety of the officer, etc. That’s why we have Mr. Video Camera on the dash as a last resort. As a rule, search of the opposite sex is done with other witness(es) close by, or with video recording.

…send lawyers, guns, and money…

       Warren Zevon

I have never understood the BB (and Sam’s Club here in IL) policy of checking the reciept. Every time I have had to show my reciept, I show it, and they look in my bag. Now, if I had stolen something, do they think I was going to pull it out from under my overcoat in the ten steps from the cashier to the guard and put it in my bag, so that when looking at my reciept he could now see that there were ten items in my bag instead of nine?
If they suspected me of shoplifting, then they should ask to search my person, not compare my reciept to what is in my bag.
The logic escapes me. Am I missing something?

“I should not take bribes and Minister Bal Bahadur KC should not do so either. But if clerks take a bribe of Rs 50-60 after a hard day’s work, it is not an issue.” ----Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Current Prime Minister of Nepal

We had another thread on this last year, where I posted the relevant California statute that grants a retailer the privilege of detaining someone for a “reasonable” investigation when they have cause – and I don’t remember whether it’s probably cause or simply reasonable cause – to believe that someone has shoplifted something. Unfortunately, I can’t make the search engine find it for me. :frowning:


Siamese attack puppet – California

Still neglecting and overprotecting my children

As a wag, you say you stuffed some items in your backpack after leaving the checkout (and left other items in the bag). Since the guy at the door is looking down the row of registers, he probably saw you stuffing items in your pack and wondered why you would stop to take the time to put some items in your pack and leave others in the bag. After all, you’re still carrying the bag.

Then, you tell him you don’t have enough time to open your backpack (after he just saw you take the time to open your backpack and put some things in it).

Sorry, but I would have been a little suspicious too…

“Drink your coffee! Remember, there are people sleeping in China.”

Hello again folks. Thanks for the answers so far. Let me clarify a couple of things and be a wee bit more specific in my question.

First of all, on questions of searches, etc. Some people (such as I) fall into the It’s my privacy, I’m not giving it up without damn good reason camp, and some people fall into the if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear so open up! camp. Which is the better of the two, or the more appropriate stance to take is much more a question for GD than GQ. Suffice as to say, since I fall into the former category, how much time it would have taken, how much trouble it would have been, etc. basically become moot points. It was my backpack, go away.

Secondly, on acting suspicious. I don’t believe that I fit the stereotypical image of a shoplifter. This is one of the reasons I mentioned my age, etc. in the OP. I was far down the line of cashiers, far away from the door. I put the extra things in my backpack while I waited for the credit card to go through and the rebates to print up. All in front of the cashier. Regardless, the reason I posted a couple of details about this was to be clear that I was asked to open my belongings based solely on my leaving the store. Not based on any suspicion of my having shoplifted. They ask to see the receipt of just about everyone.
So allow me to turn this into a hypothetical based on a few assumptions. First, lets assume I don’t want to be searched, based solely on that reason. Second, let us assume that everyone in the situation is reasonably polite, yet committed to their beliefs. Third, let’s assume the simplest case - that I bought something at the register, placed it in my own backpack (something I do regularly as it saves on plastic bags) and walked towards the exit. Nothing suspicious, nothing out of the ordinary.

The security guard asks to see my package.
I tell him no (politely).
He then… what?
If he asks me to stop, but I calmly keep walking (not running, mind you) what are the possible chain of events that could happen.

Can he, without legal repercussions, physically detain me?
Can I, without legal repercussions, defend myself from him? (That is, of course, if the first answer is no).

As to it being a private store that I am entering, if the policy is not clearly posted, am I really trapped once I am inside and have made my purchases? This strikes me as odd. This is why I mentioned the little sign in the OP. Is just a little paper sign enough for them to say that I should have been aware of the policy? Sure, I can choose not to enter the concert, airport, etc. if I don’t like their search policy, but that is to enter the facility, not to leave it. Just because it is private property, does that mean they can do what they want with me?
PS this is my 100th post!!!

Once in a while you can get shown the light
in the strangest of places
if you look at it right…

Not likely. The store has to have either probable cause or reasonable cause to detain you (see my prior post on not remembering, off the top of my head, which it is). If they detain you without that cause, they’ve got a lawsuit for false imprisonment on their hands. Even “reasonable” cause requires that they have some reason to suspect that you have stolen something – merely walking out of the store without showing them your reciept isn’t likely, IMHO, to be enough.

Come over to Great Debates and read the drug testing thread – with your opinions on privacy – which pretty much mirror my own – I’m sure you’ll have a great time! :slight_smile:


Siamese attack puppet – California

Still neglecting and overprotecting my children

I think a lot of security guards are very anxious to wield authority they do not legally have. I think a lot of them are confrontational and maybe even bullies, when they are allowed to be. Many customers are equally beligerent. My own father delighted in confrontations. Is this what happened in this instance? Two hot-heads squaring off at each other? Still, it is never wrong to stand up for your rights but it can be very wrong unless you are positive you are in the right. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Speak softly but carry a big stick.”

Actually, your careful description of what you did is why I said it sounded suspicious. What you did matches the profile of a shoplifting scam I was told to look out far years ago during my (long ago) days at K-Mart. The scam works something like this.

Approch the checkout counter with several items. Put all of the items but one on the counter; the last item (the expensive one) you trap between the counter and your leg, out of sight from the cashier.

You pay for your items, take your bag and kneel down to put some items from your bag into your backpack, slipping your extra item into the bag at the same time. (The counter blocks the cashier from getting a good view of what you are doing.)

The cashier sees you putting items into your pack from the bag and assumes nothing is amiss. Anyone else sees you carrying a bag with some items in it after passing through a checkout line and again assumes nothing is amiss. Walk out of the store with your item.

We were told about four or five things to watch out for and this was one of them. I’m assuming the Best Buy people are told to look for the same sort of things.

“Drink your coffee! Remember, there are people sleeping in China.”

Two words: False Imprisonment.

Tort, intentional one at that, with nominal damages allowed (doesn’t mean small amount; means you get them even without suffering actual damage).

To protect stores from shoplifting, most states have a statute that covers when the store can reasonably detain you. I doubt seriously that looking at a receipt that lists 10 items, and looking at a bag that shows 7 items, would constitute either reasonable or probable cause.

Walk away politely declining their request.
As for the backpacks, they can ask to see those BEFORE you come into the store, and many stores do, or require you to check them at a counter while in the store. THAT would be their reasonable right; after all, you are there on their sufferance. :slight_smile:

They should also be marking the receipt. This prevents people from coming back into the store, picking up the exact same item(s) and walking out of the store with the same receipt. The date & time stamp would be accurate and it would be a major pain for store security to prove that you were coming back for your 2nd helping. If the receipt has a stamp or check mark or hole punched in it, then you’ve already left the store once with these items, and you shouldn’t be leaving a 2nd time.

Recent polls revealed that some people have never been polled, until recently.