Massachusetts Shoplifting Arrests: Are Self-Service Checkouts Too Much Temptation?

Here’s an interesting scenario that, as a Dedham, Massachusetts shoplifting lawyer, I can assure you plays out at Massachusetts supermarkets every day.

Nowadays, in most of the larger supermarket chains, the stores have self-service checkouts. At Stop&Shop, for example, there are even “Scan It” devices at the entrance, which allow shoppers to not only scan their items in the aisles, but bag them right then and there.

The result? Some say that this attempt at the “honor system” is anything but that, with a lot of people sneaking their merchandise under the radar and shoplifting. How to do it? Some people simply place their groceries into reusable bags without scanning them, right in the aisle, or at the checkout counter. For some, it can be very tempting. In fact the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention reports that this particular shopping method makes it much easier for shoplifters to steal items. According to their research, shoplifters bilk more than $13 billion in stolen goods from retailers annually. That figure amounts to in excess of $35 million per day.

The facts bear this out. In Britain, a website called www.watchmywallet.co.uk found out in a poll of almost 5,000 people that almost one-third of shoppers stole items from grocery stores in the UK, while they used self-service checkout lanes. Here in the U.S., it’s become such a problem, that the Big Y supermarket chain, according to USA Today, completely did away with its self-checkout lanes. Some experts say that shoplifting at self-checkout counters is practically five times higher than at the checkouts manned by cashiers.

Here’s another way shoplifters get their goods. One of the largest causes of retail loss is called “sweethearting,” when cashiers “forget” to scan items that are placed by friends and family on the checkout belt at the store.

According to experts, there’s even another way that shoplifters scam the system. One of the most common ways dishonest people steal at the self-checkout, even when they are monitored by the sales staff, is to cover the barcode on selected items. The customer picks up the product, yet he covers the barcode with his hand, scans the item and then puts the merchandise in his cart. To the observer, it actually looks like the customer utilized the correct procedures, but in fact, he never did.

Let me remind my readers: Massachusetts shoplifting charges involve a serious crime. The Massachusetts shoplifting statute classifies shoplifting as grand theft or petty theft, depending on the monetary value of the goods stolen, and therefore the crime can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. The punishment for shoplifting varies based on the value of the items that are stolen, and depending on whether the shoplifting defendant has a prior criminal record.

What else constitutes shoplifting? It can range from not only concealing merchandise, but by also removing price tags, and even transferring goods from one container to another.

Despite the ease with which merchandise, especially groceries, can be stolen nowadays, I urge everyone to resist any temptation, and to practice honesty. The penalties for a Massachusetts shoplifting charge simply aren’t worth it. You risk a criminal record, and a criminal offense on your record can affect everything from your job to your relationships, to your finances.

Remember: In law and in life, honesty is always the best policy.