Retailers Bully Shoplifters for $$

'Civil recovery' systems using threat of legal action to extort funds
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 20, 2008 2:00 PM CST
Ashley Tarbox pushes her shopping cart with her three children in tow at a Wal-Mart in San Diego, Thursday Feb. 7, 2008. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – A system designed to compensate retailers for losses incurred by shoplifters has few controls to prevent the extortion or harassment, the Wall Street Journal reports. “Civil recovery” laws allow retailers to turn the names of suspected shoplifters over to collection agencies who demand fees of $200 or much more—even if merchandise was immediately returned to store shelves.

The laws require stores to demand penalties before suing, but most retailers file the demand for restitution, often with added “pre-litigation” fees, without ever planning to sue. Critics call using fear of a lawsuit a “shakedown,” but an industry spokesman defended the system: "We're just trying to get some money from criminals so our honest customers don't have to pay.”