RIAA Shakedowns Similar To Big Retailers Shaking Down Suspected Shoplifters

from the not-so-different dept

We’ve talked in the past about how both DirecTV and the RIAA have used a borderline legal version of a shakedown to get people to pay them money, without them having a chance to defend themselves. The way the process works is simple. They come up with a mere slip of evidence that the person might be guilty, and then send them threatening letters offering not to sue if they merely pay up first. With DirecTV, the company used names of people who had bought smart card writing devices, even though such devices have perfectly legitimate uses beyond pirating satellite TV signals. With the RIAA, obviously, it was through a list of (often questionable) IP addresses. By using this method, many people pay rather than face a lawsuit — even if they’re innocent. They recognize that the cost of a lawsuit is much worse than just paying the settlement charge. In the organized crime world, this is generally known as a shakedown, or if you prefer, extortion. Yet, for some reason, it’s legal when these businesses do it.

And, it turns out, the RIAA and DirecTV are not alone in doing so. Perhaps they even learned the practice by watching how big retailers approach shoplifters. Reader Josh sent in a Wall Street Journal article showing how many large retail chain stores are using a very similar process against suspected shoplifters. In the most egregious case, Home Depot detained a guy it thought was stealing drill bits, but dropped the effort after he showed them a receipt. A few weeks later, though, he received a letter demanding $3,000, which was later raised to $6,000. Admittedly, the amount is quite high there as the law firm that handled the case later admitted to a typo in entering the amount — but the process seems quite similar to the RIAA/DirecTV process. It doesn’t matter if the person is guilty or innocent. You just ask them to pay up or threaten them with a lawsuit. The retailers all insist this is a necessary process since shoplifting costs them so much — but it’s hard to see how forcing people to pay up without a chance to defend themselves is ever right, no matter how much shoplifting costs these retailers.

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Comments on “RIAA Shakedowns Similar To Big Retailers Shaking Down Suspected Shoplifters”

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35 Comments
Danny says:

Gee...

I wonder why.


The retailers all insist this is a necessary process since shoplifting costs them so much…

Well let’s see if they accuse me of stealing $20 worth of drill bits and offer a settlement of $3,000 to prevent a $X,XXX,XXX lawsuit you have to ask where that money goes. We know that even diamond tipped drill bits aren’t worth $X,XXX,XXX and that once a case goes to court the lawyers (in this case Home Depot’s legal department) take the lion’s share of the profit if they win. I honestly think that all these threats and lawsuits are a vicious case of monkey see monkey do. A few lawyers got away with so now they all want a piece of the action.

rotflmao says:

Just pretend to steal things, its a lot more fun..

I like to go to stores and pretend to steal things, shove a bunch of DVDs in my jacket and then sneakily place them on the end cap of that isle as you turn the corner.

Hassle the clerks or security on your way out, and when they stop you raise all hell when they can’t find anything on you.

Then sue them. 😉

Or to put it in a simpler format:
1.) Pretend to shoplift
2.) Get searched/sued; then counter sue.
3.) Profit!

Astrid says:

Re: Just pretend to steal things, its a lot more f

There’s a talk show host in LA who says he’d be happy to be f–ed by a priest, if it meant collecting a million dollars afterward. Kind of sick, but yeah. I wouldn’t mind the LAPD bashing in my skull with a night stick, if it meant getting rich like Rodney King. Only they don’t like to f— up white people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Just pretend to steal things, its a lot mo

I have worked loss prevention for several years. The way it works, is that you have to visually see the person place the items in their pocket, bag, etc. Then you have to maintain line of sight on them until they cross the threshold of the store. At that point, the person has crossed the point of no return. They can then be apprehended and taken to the office for questioning and holding until the police arrive (YES, cuffs are allowed).

If at any time you lose line of sight on that person (mind you several people can be watching them and the chain of custody can change to them as long as you are in communication with them and you both have LOS on that individual before you lose sight.) then you cannot apprehend them without actually seeing the items in their possession.

Some people place things in their own bags with the intention of paying for them (granted it is not in good taste). You have to give them the chance to pay before apprehending them. Once they cross the point of no return, then they have shoplifted by the legal definition.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Just pretend to steal things, its a lo

I have worked loss prevention for several years. The way it works, is that you have to visually see the person place the items in their pocket, bag, etc. Then you have to maintain line of sight on them until they cross the threshold of the store. At that point, the person has crossed the point of no return. They can then be apprehended and taken to the office for questioning and holding until the police arrive (YES, cuffs are allowed).

A member of my family has worked as a loss prevention manager for the one of nation’s largest retailers and says that the law varies from state to state. In my state you have committed an offense when you conceal merchandise and can arrested for that act alone.

Some people place things in their own bags with the intention of paying for them (granted it is not in good taste).

Not only is it “not in good taste”, plenty of people have been arrested for it. And if the arrest is done by an off duty police office then no other evidence is needed because their testimony is “gold” in court. Also, if the apprehension is made by a cop then the store has no legal liability even if something does go wrong because the cop is considered on-duty as soon as he begins law enforcement activity. That’s why stores like to hire them for security if they can afford them (they’re expensive).

You have to give them the chance to pay before apprehending them.

Nope. Once they have committed the crime the deed is done.

At least that’s the way it is in my state.

Justin says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Just pretend to steal things, its a lo

It’s easy to pretend to shoplift. Make a purchase and use a credit card. This makes a paper trail. Hide your receipt. Exit away from your cashier. Act like you shoplifted. Allow yourself to be arrested. This is the key. Once charged with shoplifting show the receipt. Lawsuit. It works every time. I bought a $389 camera and won $38,000 for the false shoplifting charge.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Just pretend to steal things, its a lot mo

Actually hiding things in your jacket is shoplifting, regardless of if you walk out the store.

shop·lift (shƏp’lÄ­ft’)
v. shop·lift·ed, shop·lift·ing, shop·lifts

v. intr.
To steal merchandise from a store that is open for business.

v. tr.
To steal (articles or an article) from a store that is open for business.

So…. What universe do you live in where hiding merchandise and relocating it is stealing? Because if you take that idea to court, you lose.

Iron Chef says:

Re: Re: Re: Just pretend to steal things, its a lo

Then you have to maintain line of sight on them until they cross the threshold of the store. At that point, the person has crossed the point of no return.

In the past 15 years, there have been a number of legal prescedents created that complicate the definition of “shoplifting”.

It was so difficut and laborous that for a good 5 years, WalMart refused to prosecute shoplifters alltogether.

Granted, different companies have different standards. However, due to many civil cases in the past 15 years, many companies have employed the process mentioned above. What you outlined the generally accepted practice based on reccomendations from the NRF or National Retail Federation.

So to qualify as shoplifting, and be prosecutable, the person has to “deliberately attempt to exit the store without paying”. This is usually defined as “passing the door or cash register with said unpaid merchandise”.

As mentioned, maintaining line of sight is a necessity- an interesting statistic is: 40% of the time, when a person is stopped at the door, they actually don’t have the merchandise— they possibly put it on a shelf before right before leaving. If line of sight is not maintained throughout the entire time the product is covered, pocketed, etc, and the person is stopped at the door without the merchandise, a huge legal grey area emerges and the store could be liable for false acquisition, possible defamation of character, and should things escalate, false imprisonment.

So shoplifting isn’t the plain vanilla dictionary term you provided above. In fact, most loss prevention teams focus on internal theft because it’s so hard to prosecute the external theft.

If your curious, let’s just say it was fun being a part of an understaffed ops team for a 1000-store retailer.

LP AC says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Just pretend to steal things, its

Our policies as I mentioned above got me my 100% conviction rate. This is why I never performed ‘take downs’ without having them in LOS.

One of my all time favorite busts was when serial shoplifting groups went store to store for 5 days hitting multiple computer stores a day. We got a heads up from one of our other stores that they had just been hit and they were going to hit us that night. They were taking (at the time) top of the line geforce II cards and other high dollar peripherals.

Once we had prepped for them, they hit us and with great speed and accuracy our management team fled the building and trapped the getaway car full of products from all of the other stores they hit. My LP team (we always dressed in plain clothes and looked really grungy) decided to help the guys on the inside pack up their stuff and as we got them to the door, we ran them off to the LP office (door was in the foyer between the internal and external doors) where officers were waiting patiently.

Since we worked with the local police I made sure that I attended all hearings and appeared in court as a witness on a regular basis. I never lost a case because of this. The reason most of the chain stores can never seem to get a conviction isn’t because they can’t. It’s because they won’t. they never go to hearings, or even make an attempt to work with the police. Most store managers think LP is a joke and that they can use their budget to piss away on company parties for the losers that are robbing them blind.

Anonymous Coward says:

Actually, Home Depot didn’t drop the case, it was dropped when the guy went to trial and showed the judge his receipt.

He was asked for 3K because Home Depot said they had made an error and thought the guy had stolen property worth 1,009.99 instead of 9.99. Florida allows stores to recover triple the amount of goods stolen.

Is this the country of your Grandfather? No, and thats probably a good thing. If it were, they probably would have just kicked this guys ass and instead of trying to help Iraq we would just kill everyone there (which really isn’t all that bad a thing.)

Iron Chef says:

Better TV from Malone-Led DirecTV

Well, at least DireTV is back in the hands of a pioneer- John Malone’s Liberty Media Group. It will be the first time since selling TCI to AT&T Broadband that a pioneer in the space will be back in control.

I thought something was up when they bought that building in the Tech Center.

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=a.tadd2fOVGA&refer=home

The Swede says:

USA today - what's going on? USA vs Sweden

Hi friends

What’s going on in USA – the land of Freedom and Justice?

Here in our little northern country Sweden a man is innocent and doesn’t have to pay a single dime before he has has had the chance to have his day in the court. The taxpayers pay for every expense until the verdict comes. After the verdict the guilty part have to pay, and in this case with the innocent ‘drill bits’ man, the accusing part (Home Depot) would have to pay the costs for the trial, etc.

This means that no organisation or company can scare an innocent Swede to pay!

Anonymous Coward says:

forcing people to pay up without a chance to defend themselves is ever right, no matter how much shoplifting costs these retailers.

No chance to defend themselves? What, are people so afraid of a letter and a threat that you consider that not being able to defend themselves? Whats wrong with ignoring the letter? Whats wrong with going to court to have your say? Wouldn’t that be defending yourself?

Is your America so afraid that actually having to defend yourself is so bad? Are you so afraid that you wouldn’t even venture to do that?

Seth Brundle says:

Eh, a little overdone

The examples are kind of useless as they give just the accused’s side of the story.

It is extremely unusual when a retailer accuses someone of shoplifting because they spot merchandise on them , like the drill bits – without actually *witnessing* the taking of the drill bits off the shelf. I mean, what contractor walks into Home Depot who doesn’t have some piece of hardware on them?

For example, in Frys department store they check your bags, but what most people don’t know is that in the case you have unpaid merchandise in your bag with other paid merchandise, they just apologize to you and have them ring it up. Its happened to me ($400 in missing ringups) and they never accused me of anything.

As the article mentions, shoplifting is a $40B problem, and because of the cost of going to court, even the *retailers* can’t afford to prosecute. Also, some states are actually *mandating* that they offer a settlement first.

The whole system makes perfect sense – and yes I think its totally appropriate for the letters to warn of the consequences of losing in court – because they are real.

The fact of the matter is that sometimes innocent people have to go to court to prove their innocence. That’s our system. The settlement is not intended for the innocent, if you aren’t guilty don’t take it. And yes, its actually a great deal for the guilty.

Josh says:

Re: Eh, a little overdone

First, thanks Mike, for looking at the article I sent in.

“The fact of the matter is that sometimes innocent people have to go to court to prove their innocence. That’s our system. The settlement is not intended for the innocent, if you aren’t guilty don’t take it. And yes, its actually a great deal for the guilty.”

The problem with these settlement letters, just as in RIAA type cases, is that it will cost the innocent more to pay for a lawyer and fight it out to prove their innocence than to just pay the settlement amount.

I have no trouble with a retail store sending a settlement letter to someone for adequate damages in a civil suit IF and only if they have been convicted of the criminal charge.

It’s the “assumed-guilty-so-pay-up-or-else” mentality I have a problem with, whether it is RIAA or Home Depot, or anyone else. It is simply extortion.

gene (profile) says:

RIAA shakedown

I was sued in a fraudulent lawsuit by Directv. They lied in the suit naming people I never heard of in order to sue in the first place. Not being able to defend I asked the government for help. I submitted plenty of evidence to show the suit was a sham, that they had lied to get the suit filed, that I did not do what they claimed I did.
Government, even though this was a felony, stood by and did nothing. Worse, in the end, certain constitutional rights all American’s have were taken in confidential agreement.

Government has permitted this crime by doing nothing to enforce criminal laws violated by employees. The bigger problem here is when people now view there own government as one willing to enforce laws when it suits large corporations. Government can no longer ask anything of me until they investigate the crime committed against me.

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