A Bethlehem, PA, man has been sentenced to 6-12 months in jail for yelling at and threatening a Wal-Mart greeter who asked to see his receipt. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct for those actions. Unfortunately for him, when he was arrested by police after the incident they also found drugs and paraphernalia in his car. He also pleaded guilty to a drug charge.
So you see, it really is a good idea to keep your head when asked to present a receipt at check out. Especially if you've got something else to hide.
It's easy getting into many stores, but not so much getting out. Those quick trips in-and-out aren't so fast anymore in stores where "receipt checks" are used. Being asked to show your receipt before being allowed to leave the store may be inconvenient, even a little insulting, but in the long run, it may be worth the hassle.
Stores like Wal-Mart hire "greeters," usually elderly people working part-time to make ends meet, to roam near the doors and welcome shoppers to the store. But that's only part of their role. On your way out, that friendly face could also ask to view your merchandise receipt.
In "big box" stores, like Best Buy, a private security guard may ask for a good look at your purchases.
Why? To stop shoplifting, of course. Checking receipts helps make sure shoppers have paid for everything in their carts. Also, would-be shoplifters may think twice before walking out the door with merchandise tucked inside their clothing.
Many stores use tracking devices but forget to take of the device after scanning it so the alarm goes off. This is when you'll be glad you have the receipt.
Do You Have to Show?
As a general rule, stores can't force you to show a receipt before letting you leave the store. You can politely refuse to show your receipt and continue walking out the door. Of course, the receipt-checker may insist, giving you all sorts of reasons why you need to show the receipt. In the end, you may end up wasting more time listening to the checker and trying to bow out politely than if you just showed the receipt, especially if you have nothing to hide.
What you don't want to do is lose your cool and overreact like a Wal-Mart shopper in Utah did. He refused to show his receipt to the store's elderly greeter and left the store. The customer - an off-duty police chief from another Utah town - faces criminal charges for disorderly conduct because he swore at the greeter, threatened to hurt a security guard, and yelled at the police officers who were called to the scene.
It may have been better to show the receipt, right?
Things may be different if you're shopping at a club store where only paying members may shop. By signing the store's membership agreement, you may give the store the rights to:
- Search your briefcase, backpack or any other container you may have when enter or exit the store
- Look at your receipt - and any merchandise you bought - when you leave the store
Costco's membership agreement gives the stores these rights. If you refuse, your membership could be canceled - without refund of membership fees. Of course, anyone caught shoplifting faces criminal charges, too.
Can You Be Stopped?
Remember, you can ignore the request for receipt and keep moving. However, if the greeter, guard, or store security has a good reason to think you're shoplifting, you can be held or detained until the matter is cleared up? You're thinking Fourth Amendment or false imprisonment, right?
They probably don't apply:
- The Fourth Amendment only applies to police officers and other state actors. It doesn't apply to private citizens, like store owners and greeters
- If the receipt-checker is a police officer, you can be detained and forced to show a receipt, and even arrested, if the officer has probable cause to believe you committed a crime
- In most states, if store workers or store security personnel have a reasonable belief that a customer is shoplifting, they may detain the shopper, ask questions and search their belongings without fear of facing a lawsuit for false imprisonment
Of course, the facts and circumstances of each case is different, as are the false arrest laws in each state, but those are good general guidelines.