Sometimes one wonders who’s doing the stealing?

The Wall Street Journal reports on a new collection “procedure” created by large retailers as their losses from shoplifting go through the roof. All 50 states have passed laws allowing retailers to take shoplifters to court in a “civil recovery” action to collect up to three times their losses, even if they recovered the item; and many states also allow recovery for potential legal fees.

I am not defending shoplifting. With losses running around $40 billion, it makes sense for some form of recovery to go on. BUT, and there’s always a but, the retailers are going about it in their usual ham- handed way and catching totally innocent people in the process.

For example, The Journal reports on one guy who was stopped for having a couple of dollars of drill bits in his shirt pocket as he left the store. It took him a long time but he eventually convinced store security that he had bought the bits on a previous visit by getting the receipt from his home. Nevertheless he soon received a letter from a law firm demanding $3,000 in payments!

If you get one of these letters in error, you are in for a rough ride. The retailers have convinced the courts that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act does not apply, so they do not have to pay any attention to its restrictions, including the one that allows you to stop collection efforts with a “cease and desist” letter. (View a sample of a Cease and Desist letter on Ask Jack About Debt).

Often the only way to solve the problem is to hire a lawyer. But there is one thing you should know if you ever get one of these letters. The letters all threaten court action. No one wants to get dragged into court, so many people pay up. But if the firm that does this for Walmart, Lord and Taylor, Walgreens and four other large clients is any indication, you will NOT be hauled into court, no matter what they say.

Last year this firm sent out 1.2 million letters, and ended up taking only ten people to court!

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