You Received a Shoplifting Demand Letter. Now What?

If caught shoplifting, the merchant may notify you of its intent to seek damages by sending you a CIVIL DEMAND LETTER. This civil claim is separate from, and in addition to, any criminal action that might be prosecuted. Massachusetts General Law c 231 § 85R ½ gives a merchant the right to file a civil action for the recovery of damages for larceny or attempted larceny. According to statute, anyone stealing or attempting to steal merchandise shall be liable in tort to the merchant for damages for not less than fifty nor more than five hundred dollars in addition to any actual damages incurred.
You are not obligated to pay the civil demand unless and until the merchant sues you in court (usually small claims court) and then not until it wins a judgment against you. If you receive a civil demand letter, Boston Shoplifting Attorney Steven J. Topazio,, advises his clients not to pay the civil demand but to fight it because payment will not prevent the merchant from also filing an application for criminal complaint.

If you get caught shoplifting and you are lucky enough not to get arrested, two things can happen. First, the merchant can file a civil demand letter against you. Second, you might also receive a summons in the mail for an application for criminal complaint. Paying the civil demand is mutually exclusive from the merchant’s right to seek criminal charges.

Shoplifting in Massachusetts is governed by statute. Massachusetts General Law c 266 § 30A gives the police the right to arrest without a warrant any person they have probable cause to believe has committed the offense of shoplifting. All that is needed is a statement from the merchant that you shoplifted. This statement alone is enough to constitute probable cause to arrest.

Shoplifting is defined as taking or intentionally paying less than the sale price of the merchandise. Shoplifting can also include carrying, hiding, concealing, or otherwise manipulating merchandise with the intent of taking it or depriving the merchant of all or some part of the retail value. A person shoplifts by intentionally changing, transferring, altering or removing any label, price tag or marking indicating merchandise value. A person can also shoplift by committing refund fraud or intentionally using an illegitimate form of payment. Putting unpaid-for merchandise on your person in a dressing room to hide or conceal under your clothes is considered shoplifting. Manipulating price tags to intentionally pay less than the stated value is also considered the crime of shoplifting.

In addition to a civil demand letter, if caught shoplifting, you may also receive in the mail an application for criminal complaint for a Clerk’s hearing. You are entitled to a Clerk’s hearing on all misdemeanor charges, if not arrested. Shoplifting is a misdemeanor. You are not entitled to a Magistrate’s or Clerk’s hearing for a felony charge. A felony is any crime where you can be sentenced to state prison. A crime which carries only a house of corrections sentence is a misdemeanor. At the Clerk’s hearing, the Magistrate will decide if a complaint for shoplifting or other larceny offense should issue against you.

If you have been accused of stealing or shoplifting merchandise and receive a Civil Demand Notice and need guidance as how to proceed, visit Boston Shoplifting Attorney Steven J. Topazio at for a free consultation.