What to Do (and What Not to Do) If You Are Arrested for Shoplifting


1 in 11 Americans have shoplifted at some point, and according to New York Magazine, 1 in 48 get caught. Of those 1 in 48 that are caught, about 50% of them get turned in to the police. If you are like so many Americans and have been arrested for shoplifting, you need to know what to do next.

Understanding Shoplifting and Its Consequences

Despite its seemingly commonplace nature, this holds significant legal consequences that everyone should be aware of. This unlawful act involves taking items from a store without paying for them.

Can you be arrested for stealing? There is a possibility. Depending on what you are accused of stealing and the circumstances around your arrest, your charges can range from misdemeanor to felony. If you are arrested for shoplifting, you need to know what to do right away and, just as importantly, what not to do to protect yourself.

Different Types of Shoplifting

Altering Price Tags

Shoplifting extends beyond the act of physically taking items; it includes deceptive practices like altering or tampering with price tags. Individuals engaging in this form of shoplifting intentionally modify price tags to reflect a lower amount, to pay less than the actual value of the merchandise.

Switching Containers

This tactic involves transferring merchandise from its original container to another with the intent to pay a reduced amount or nothing at all. Shoplifters may, for instance, place expensive items in packaging associated with lower-priced products.


Concealment is a common shoplifting technique where individuals hide merchandise within their personal belongings or clothing to facilitate leaving the store without paying. This deceptive practice comes in various forms:

  • Bag Concealment: Shoplifters often employ bags, backpacks, or purses as concealment tools. Merchandise is strategically placed within these items to avoid detection.
  • Clothing Concealment: Concealing merchandise within one’s clothing is a classic and widely used technique. Shoplifters may use oversized clothing, layers, or specially designed garments with hidden compartments to obscure stolen items.
  • Layering Technique: The layering technique involves wearing multiple layers of clothing to create additional hiding spaces for stolen items. Shoplifters strategically add layers during the theft process, allowing them to obscure merchandise within the folds of clothing.
  • Fitting Room Concealment: Shoplifters may take advantage of fitting rooms as convenient locations for concealing stolen items. In these instances, individuals bring merchandise into the fitting room only to leave with concealed items under their clothing.
  • Stroller or Baby Carriage Concealment: Individuals with young children may use strollers or baby carriages as a means of concealment. Stolen items are strategically placed among the baby-related items, making it challenging for store personnel to detect stolen goods.
  • Modifying Clothing for Concealment: Some shoplifters modify their clothing to create hidden compartments or pockets specifically designed for concealing merchandise. This method involves deliberate planning, as individuals tailor their attire to accommodate stolen items while minimizing the risk of detection.

Collaborative Shoplifting

Collaborative shoplifting, involving multiple individuals working together, is a notable concern. These incidents may include distracting store personnel, coordinating thefts, or employing teamwork to successfully shoplift items.

Metal Bags

Shoplifters leverage bags with metallic linings or special materials designed to thwart security measures. Metal bags focus on subverting electronic surveillance systems commonly found at store exits. These bags are equipped with materials that interfere with or block signals emitted by security sensors.

Leaving Without Payment

A straightforward act of shoplifting occurs when an individual leaves a store with merchandise without making any attempt to pay. This type of shoplifting often involves calculated actions, such as exploiting blind spots in surveillance or taking advantage of crowded store conditions to go unnoticed.

Employee Theft

Shoplifting is not exclusive to customers; it also encompasses theft committed by employees. Employee theft may involve staff members stealing merchandise directly or aiding others in shoplifting activities.

Consuming Merchandise

Shoplifting extends beyond physical products to include the unauthorized consumption of goods within the store premises. Consuming food or beverages without the intent to pay is considered a form of shoplifting, with legal ramifications for those involved.

Self-Checkout Shoplifting

This exploits the convenience of automated checkout systems. Individuals deliberately neglect to scan or pay for specific items. This type stands out for its reliance on technology and the challenge it poses to traditional surveillance methods.

Removing Theft Prevention Devices

Attempting to remove or successfully remove an item’s theft prevention device is another method classified as shoplifting. This involves individuals tampering with or removing security tags, magnetic strips, or other anti-theft devices attached to merchandise.


Under-ringing is when a shoplifter collaborates with a store employee. In this scenario, the shoplifter proceeds through the checkout line of the complicit employee with multiple items. The employee, knowingly participating in the crime, intentionally avoids scanning or ringing up certain items, allowing the shoplifter to pay less than the actual value of the merchandise.

Shoplifting Statistics

How common is shoplifting in America? Recent trends shed light on the prevalence of this behavior. For instance, data from the Council on Criminal Justice shows that overall shoplifting incidents were 16 percent higher in the first half of 2023 than in the first half of 2019. However, when excluding New York City, reported shoplifting incidents decreased in 17 out of 24 cities over the same period.

Shoplifters more commonly target certain items. These can range from easily concealable small items like medication to high-value products like jewelry. A 2022 survey by the National Retail Federation reveals that laundry detergent is one of the most stolen items in organized retail crime.

How many shoplifters get caught? Shoplifters claim to be caught, on average, once in every 49 times they steal (approximately 2.5% chance of getting caught shoplifting). Meanwhile, chronic offenders report being arrested once in every 100 thefts. On how many people steal, 10-11% of the U.S. population has shoplifted at some point in their lives.

Detection and apprehension rates vary, with a portion of shoplifters successfully evading capture. Surveillance technologies, loss prevention strategies, and collaboration with law enforcement play crucial roles in curbing shoplifting. Retailers understanding how often shoplifters get caught is vital to refine a secure environment.

What Happens if You Get Caught Shoplifting 

So what happens if you shoplift? First, if you are detained in the store from which you were shoplifting, it is important to know that you should not speak. Silence is your ally in this situation. Avoid giving any statements that could potentially be used against you later.

The store personnel may try to tell you that if you simply confess, sign an admission of guilt, and return the merchandise to the store, you can go free. It is important that you do not sign any admission of guilt and say as little as possible.

  • Shoplifting Arrests

The store personnel may decide to call the police, and then you may be placed under arrest. Once under arrest, any admission of guilt you have signed will then be evidence in the case against you.

  • What To Do if You Get Caught Shoplifting: Protect Your Rights

If you are arrested for shoplifting by a police officer, the recommendation remains the same. So, what to do if you get caught stealing? Say as little as possible and immediately ask for your attorney.

Your attorney will know the appropriate questions to ask and how to proceed to minimize your chances of being charged, to enhance your chances of charges being dropped, or to get you the best possible outcome in your case.

What happens when you get arrested for shoplifting? In many cases, a police officer will give you a citation that looks similar to a traffic ticket that tells you when your court date will be and you will be allowed to go home. But, depending on the circumstances or the value of the item you have stolen, you may be arrested and taken into custody. Either way, your attorney will be able to speak on your behalf.

  • Punishment: Charges for Shoplifting

In many cases, your charges may be dismissed in exchange for participating in an alternative program or after speaking with the prosecutor. If the value of the item you have taken is less than $950, you may be charged with petty theft. If the item costs more than $950, you may be charged with grand theft.

For these shoplifter punishments and to give you the best possible outcome, if you are arrested for shoplifting, it is imperative that you consult a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

  • Role of a Lawyer in Shoplifting Charges

When charged with shoplifting, securing the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial. Hiring an attorney can guide potential consequences and formulate effective defense strategies. They assess evidence, explore possible mitigating factors, and work to achieve the best possible outcome for their client.

You should also know that it’s crucial to have experienced legal representation with free consultation as an additional advantage. Just as Alcock & Associates are known for their expertise in criminal defense they can provide you with the necessary guidance and support during such challenging times.

How To Stop Stealing

  1. Understand the Consequences

    – Recognize the legal, financial, and personal consequences, especially the impact on what happens if you are caught shoplifting. Understanding the potential impact on your life and the lives of others is a crucial first step.

  2. Seek Professional Help

    – If stealing is a persistent issue, consider seeking professional help. A therapist or counselor can assist in identifying underlying issues and guide healthier coping mechanisms.

  3. Build Self-Control

    – Work on enhancing your self-control and impulse management. Practice delaying gratification and think about the long-term consequences before engaging in stealing behavior.

  4. Avoid Temptation

    – Identify environments or situations that tempt you to steal and actively avoid them. Restructuring your surroundings can make it easier to break the cycle of stealing behavior.

  5. Learn from Mistakes

    – If you’ve been caught stealing in the past, use it as a learning experience. Understand the impact of your actions on others and use the opportunity to grow and change.


What are the chances of getting caught shoplifting after leaving the store?

This varies based on factors such as surveillance measures, store policies, and law enforcement presence. Increased security measures, including cameras and vigilant staff, can heighten the likelihood of detection.

Do police come to the house after shoplifting?

In some cases, especially if the value of stolen items is significant or if there is a history of shoplifting, police may visit the individual’s house to address the situation. The response depends on local law enforcement practices and the severity of the alleged offense.

What does the judge question when you shoplift?

When you appear in court during legal proceedings for shoplifting, judges may inquire about the circumstances of the incident, prior criminal history or previous convictions, intent, and any mitigating factors. The judge seeks information to make informed decisions regarding charges, potential penalties, or alternative resolutions.

How do shoplifters get caught?

Shoplifters can get caught through various means, including surveillance cameras, store personnel observation, undercover security, and electronic security systems. Vigilance on the part of store staff and effective security measures contribute to apprehensions.

Can you get arrested for shoplifting?

Yes, shoplifting is a criminal offense, and individuals caught engaging in this behavior may face arrest. The severity of the consequences depends on factors such as the value of stolen items and the individual’s criminal history.

Can you get arrested for stealing?

Yes, stealing, including grocery shoplifting or any other type, is a criminal offense, and individuals engaged in this behavior can be arrested. The legal consequences, such as fines, probation, or even jail, depend on the circumstances and the value of the stolen items.

How to beat a self-checkout theft charge?

Beating a self-checkout theft charge involves legal strategies and may require the assistance of a criminal defense attorney. Defenses may include challenging evidence, questioning intent, or exploring alternative resolutions. Consult with an attorney to discuss the specifics of the case and potential legal strategies.

Navigating the Aftermath of the Shoplifting Situation

If you find yourself arrested for shoplifting, remember to stay silent and avoid signing any admission of guilt while still in the store. Seeking legal counsel immediately is crucial to guide you through the process, potentially leading to reduced charges or a favorable outcome. Understanding what to do and not to do during this challenging situation is key to protecting yourself and navigating the legal process effectively.


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