Consumer Law

Are Receipt Checks at Stores Worth the Hassle

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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.

Original Article

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.

Receipt, Please

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?

Club Stores

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.

What You Can Do

The easiest thing to do is to show your receipt when asked for it. It's faster than engaging in a debate over why, and in the long run it helps save you money. Stores make up the lost profits on stolen merchandise by raising the prices they charge you and other customers.

Be sure to check your membership rules if you shop at a club store. If you don't want to show your receipt, you could end up losing your membership privileges.

Don't take it personally, either. The store doesn't think you're a thief, so don't think you're being targeted or insulted by having to "prove" you aren't a thief before leaving the store.

If you truly insist on not showing your receipt, don't make the mistake of risking criminal charges by fighting back. Remain calm and continue walking. If you're detained and think store personnel have acted improperly, remain calm and call the police to have the matter settled.

Shoppers and store owners should work together to understand each side's point of view so everyone can enjoy a hassle-free, money-saving shopping experience.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What are the false arrest laws in our state?
  • Is an off-duty police officer in plain clothes covered by the Fourth Amendment while he's working as a receipt-checker?
  • Can I use force if I'm being detained physically and the store doesn't have a good reason to do so?
  • What if I'm tracked out of the store by an employee? Am I still required to show a receipt outside the store?
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