How to Legally Detain a Shoplifter

Written by ehow legal editor
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Spotting and then detaining a shoplifter can be difficult for merchants. Specific rules and guidelines must be observed to establish a probable cause of shoplifting and legally detain a shoplifter. Here's how to legally detain a shoplifter in your place of business.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Watch as the suspect selects an item in the store. Determine that your suspicion of theft is not based on the person simply returning an item.

  2. 2

    Witness the suspect trying to hide or carry away merchandise. In the case of a fitting room, pay attention to the items the person enters and leaves with.

  3. 3

    Maintain visual surveillance of the suspect while he or she is in the store. The suspect may discard concealed merchandise if wary of being watched.

  4. 4

    Verify that the suspect has not paid for the merchandise. Wait until the suspect has left the store without paying before confronting the person.

  5. 5

    Approach the shoplifter outside the store and identify yourself as security or store personnel. Consider approaching the suspect with another person. This way, you will have witnesses as to how the suspect responded as well as someone who can support you if the suspect makes any complaints against you.

  6. 6

    Ask the suspect to return to the store to discuss the matter or to return the item rather than trying to arrest the person.

  7. 7

    Decide whether you are going to press charges. If so, your next step is to call the police and wait for them to make an official arrest.

  8. 8

    Check your state's laws about a store owner's or employee's rights to legally detain a suspected shoplifter. The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention can be a good source of information for merchants about shoplifting (see Resources below).

Tips and warnings

  • Most states give merchants the right to legally detain a person who has been seen shoplifting and conduct a brief interrogation. However, don't assume you have the right to search the shoplifter's belongings or clothing. Only some states allow business owners to do this.
  • Most shoplifters are not armed, but don't attempt to physically attack a shoplifter. Not only could it be dangerous, but use of excessive force could actually make you liable for injury or assault.

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