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What is organized retail theft?

| Mar 20, 2021 | The Justice System, Theft |

Retail theft, also known as shoplifting, is a relatively minor crime in Michigan. Retail fraud in the third degree, which is defined as taking an item worth less than $200, is a misdemeanor that is typically punished with probation and a fine.

What many people are not aware of is that Michigan also has an Organized Retail Crime Act that covers a wide range of activities that could be considered shoplifting or are related to shoplifting. A charge of organized retail theft can result in felony charges and much more serious penalties.

What is organized retail theft?

While Michigan’s organized shoplifting law can be applied to a person acting alone, it often involves two or more people stealing merchandise from a store with the intent to resell, distribute, or transfer to another retailer or individual in exchange for payment or something of value. In other words, it is not intended to address people shoplifting items for their own personal use.

The law is somewhat ambiguous though, so it is possible that people can be charged with this crime in a wide variety of situations. For example, the law also defines the following as organized retail crime: “Removes, destroys, deactivates, or knowingly evades any component of an antishoplifting or inventory control device to prevent the activation of that device.”

The law also applies to those who receive or purchase the stolen merchandise with the goal of reselling it.

A person does not have to actually steal anything to be charged with this crime. Anyone who allegedly organized, supervised or somehow helped with the theft may be charged. Even simply conspiring with someone else to commit retail theft falls under the law’s purview.

Oftentimes, organized retail theft is seen when individuals steal goods, then return those goods to the store in exchange for a gift card, then sell that gift card online. The law pertaining to organized retail theft is broad, though, meaning that there are many actions that could be considered retail theft. Some specific examples outlined in the law include:

  • Sounding a fire alarm or deactivating a fire alarm in the commission of an organized retail crime
  • Buying a cellphone using fraudulent credit, subscribing to a cellphone plan with the intent to defraud another person or to breach the agreement or even using another person to get a cellphone plan with the intent to defraud another person or to breach the agreement

Organized retail theft is on the rise

The National Retail Federation has found that organized retail theft is on the rise. In 2020, there were more than $700,000 worth of losses attributable to organized retail theft for every $1 billion worth of goods sold. About 75% of loss prevention professionals at retailers also claimed that organized retail theft was up last year. To try to combat the problem, many retailers are increasing their efforts to strengthen return policies, more thoroughly screening employees, implementing new technology, and increasing loss prevention budgets.

These efforts could leave you facing criminal charges

A simple theft charge can quickly be enhanced to organized retail theft if prosecutors think that they can prove that you intended to resell or redistribute the stolen goods for money. This could leave you facing the potential of five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. If you’re in that position now and need help developing an aggressive criminal defense, then now is the time to seek out the assistance that you need to protect your freedom and your future.