You may never receive a demand letter or you may receive one before or after the underlying criminal case is resolved. The question of whether to pay is not always straightforward and often depends on the circumstances and timing.
Can the retailer sue me?
Yes- under N.C.G.S. 1-538.2 a retailer has the right to sue a defendant charged with larceny or shoplifting for both damages and attorney fees. The statute provides for minimum damages of $150.00 and goes up to to $1,000.00. The standard demand letter is for $150.00.
Will the retailer sue me?
Unlikely- suing somebody for $150 is simply not worth the time or effort. The filing fee alone for Small Claims Court is $100.00 not even counting the service fees, attorney fees, and the time and effort required to send the loss prevention employee witness to the alleged crime to court to testify. The other main barrier to suing a North Carolina resident is the general difficulty in collecting civil judgments due to the general prohibition on wage garnishment for most debts in NC.
Is there any benefit to paying?
Sometimes paying and having proof is useful in persuading the District Attorney (“DA”) to drop the underlying criminal charge. Nevertheless, do not assume that paying the $150.00 will result in dismissal of the criminal case via an informal deferred prosecution, or you are likely to be disappointed.
Should i pay?
I tell clients the choice is one they need to make. Usually the District Attorney or retailer does not particularly care if you pay or not. As I have never seen a lawsuit for failure to pay under N.C.G.S. 1-538.2 filed in NC the only real concern is the credit report issue.
Why do retailers send Civil Demand Letters?
The cost of a stamp is well worth the return these demand letters generate. Even if only 10% of recipients pay that is still a net win for Walmart or Target. They generally use out of state law firms to send out letters nationwide that likely receive a very small cut of any money received.
Is paying an admission of guilt?
Not necessarily. Many lawsuits or potential lawsuits are settled without any admission of liability simply to avoid the hassle and expense of litigation.
Will failure to pay appear on my credit report?
That might be the one big unknown regarding the alleged debt. Despite never seeing a refusal to pay appear on a credit report that may be a possible concern of refusing to pay.
NCGS § 1-538.2. Civil liability for larceny, shoplifting, theft by employee, embezzlement, and obtaining property by false pretense.
(a) Any person, other than an unemancipated minor, who commits an act that is punishable under G.S. 14-72, 14-72.1, 14-74, 14-90, or 14-100 is liable for civil damages to the owner of the property. In any action brought by the owner of the property, the owner is entitled to recover the value of the goods or merchandise, if the goods or merchandise have been destroyed, or any loss of value to the goods or merchandise, if the goods or merchandise were recovered, or the amount of any money lost by reason of the theft or embezzlement or fraud of an employee. In addition to the above, the owner of the property is entitled to recover any consequential damages, and punitive damages, together with reasonable attorneys' fees. The total compensatory and consequential damages awarded to a plaintiff against a defendant under this section shall not be less than one hundred fifty dollars ($150.00) and shall not exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000), except an act punishable under G.S. 14-74 or G.S. 14-90 shall have no maximum limit under this section.
Lisa Ann Skadra
5/27/2017 02:26:27 pm
I haven't even been charged with anything l was doing a report on theft and know these types of messages won't stop
5/27/2017 03:53:07 pm
Did you receive a demand letter without even being charged?
6/23/2017 10:40:44 am
I did. The situation described above happened to me. What would you advise?
6/23/2017 11:24:20 am
If you received a demand letter and were never charged with a crime I would be very hesitant to pay.
2/9/2018 09:11:32 am
Just wondering I made a big mistake I had every intention of paying for the goods it was such a good deal 50.00 for a 200.00 pair of boots..I make no excuses for my actions had gotten into a big fight with my BF my head was not in the right place. Not a excuse by any means. Took them walked out of the store my friend went in the next day mind you all these employees became my friends..anyways my friend went into the store 2 days later and they said they caught me on camera and that they called the police. I am guilty and will take all punshiments. What happens next?
2/9/2018 11:26:05 am
What county is this charge from? I would definitely speak with an attorney about hopefully entering a deferred prosecution program to avoid a permanent criminal record.
7/9/2018 02:24:53 pm
I used to work for a company and they said that I helped a customer steal by using the coupons that she had that scanned for items. They had a woman take me in a room by herself and no camera or anything. She said I was free to leave at anytime but I wasn’t allowed to make a phone call or anything. I was never changed with a crime or anything I got in my car and left at the end. Then today over a year and so later I get a letter from a lawyer office demanding payment. I need help or to talk to
7/9/2018 07:26:41 pm
Did the letter reference the statute in this blog article? How much did the letter ask for in payment?
Rebecca A Lotta
7/11/2018 10:12:13 am
Hello, my mother recently received one of these letters. She is cleared through criminal court. But also does not work now and is pursuing SSI due to some serious medical issues. She is very scared about this letter they sent her and scared they will try to put her in jail. What can I tell her? As she has NO income and I cannot afford to pay this 150$ plus help support her. Thanks so much
7/11/2018 10:50:15 am
This statute deals with a civil penalty so not paying will not result in jail, but could result in her being sued and a judgment being issued against her.
5/3/2020 01:25:25 am
About 3 months ago a friend and I were caught shoplifting from Belk. They told us not to go to any belk's or the mall it took place at. We both received these letter demanding $150 from each of us. We are both minors and we're told that we would receive no further punishments because we had never gotten in trouble before and were compliant. It's been 3 months and we just got these letter. Part of me thinks they are super fake and I'm not sure what to do about it.
5/3/2020 11:21:25 pm
Such letters are not fake as the merchant does have the right to demand the money. That being said, I have never seen a lawsuit filed based on this statute.
5/20/2020 12:35:24 pm
Took money from my previous employer due to being extorted by a neighborhood gang close to my store. Under the age of 18 (im 16) and was questioned about the incident. I admitted to taking the money ( under the presumption they had proof, I identified myself in what seemed to be video proof ). I was also asked more questions and I said yes but they had no proof of those things I just said yes under the impression, if i told the LPO yes he'd let me walk, I signed something saying I would pay the money back which was 3x the amount they have proof I took. Got the letter recently. Would paying it back be better than trying to contest it in court and try and get the amount talked down the actual amount I took and less costly? and what I signed would it even be able to hold up/ be admissible in any court since Im under the age of 18? Or should I just ignore it? I know that it doesn't effect me but it falls on my parents and I just want to know what option a lawyer would advise. This happened in Durham Country and the law firm is in Charlotte
5/20/2020 09:16:14 pm
The civil penalty is usually not connected to the criminal case. You should speak with your criminal lawyer if you actually have pending charges. If you singed some letter agreeing to pay back 3x the amount you should have a local attorney review that letter.
I was caught shoplifting, the store, let me go, but give me a form, saying I can't come back in the store, for 5 years the police were called, but the did not charge me, the store and police, let me go, I got a letter, saying I need to pay 150.00 dollars, a civil fine. Should I pay it?
3/14/2021 07:26:19 pm
They do have the right to sue you for the money, but I have never seen a lawsuit actually filed under those circumstances before.
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