What is “Retail Fraud” in Michigan?

Retail Fraud is an overly-complicated legal term--it simply means “Shoplifting.” In Michigan, a person who takes property (e.g. food, candy, clothing) from a store that’s open to the public will be charged with the crime of Retail Fraud. It’s a criminal—not civil—offense and can have severe consequences, including the possibility of jail, large fines, and a criminal record. Having a horrible-sounding crime like “Retail Fraud” on a permanent record will be a big black eye for a person looking for employment.

Dan Geherin, owner of Geherin Law Group PLLC in Ann Arbor, has either prosecuted or defended hundreds of Retail Fraud cases in his 20+ year career. Dan’s a former prosecutor who’s prosecuted many Retail Fraud offenses while assigned to an anti-fraud unit. As a board-certified criminal defense attorney, he’s defended countless Retail Fraud allegations for adults and juveniles throughout Southeastern Michigan. 

When people face Retail Fraud charges, they often have these questions:

“Is Retail Fraud a misdemeanor or felony?”

“How do I prove my innocence if I didn’t commit this offense?”

“Will I go to jail/prison if I’m guilty?”

“What is a Civil Demand Notice?”

“If I return the goods, will the whole criminal charge simply go away?”

In Michigan, Retail Fraud is generally defined as “the taking of property from a store that was open to the general public, and with the specific intent to deprive the store of ownership.” If a someone steals from a person, building, or home, it’s a distinct (separate) theft offense and not Retail Fraud. Only where there is a “retail establishment” involved (hence, Retail Fraud) is this charge appropriate. If the person is an employee of the establishment it would be Embezzlement and not Retail Fraud. 

Retail Fraud charges range from a 93-day maximum misdemeanor offense to a 4-year maximum felony offense. What explains the wide difference in charges? Two factors: the value of alleged taking, and prior Retail Fraud conviction(s) (if applicable).  The higher the value of the good(s) taken, the higher the degree. Goods valued over $1,000?  That’s likely a felony Retail Fraud 1st Degree.  Prior Retail Fraud conviction? Likely a Retail Fraud 2nd Degree (punishable by up to 1 year in jail). 

Once arrested or cited with Retail Fraud, people often receive a Citation and notice of Trespass preventing them from returning that that particular store or shopping center. They might also receive a “Civil Demand” from the store asking that a fine be paid directly to the corporate headquarters.  As a general rule, this fine has nothing to do with the criminal case, and has no bearing on whether the person will be charged/prosecuted or not.  It is simply an economical sanction brought directly from the store. 

Often times, people charged with Retail Fraud have simply forgotten to pay or neglected to pay for an item in their cart.  Sometimes distraction plays a part.  Other times, people think they have properly scanned an item only to learn that they inadvertently left the store without paying.  All of these factual instances might lead to a criminal Retail Fraud charge—one that must be defended in court.

For people facing these reputation-altering allegations, the best option is to consult with an experienced, aggressive, intelligent criminal defense attorney with a history of successfully defending these allegations. Those guilty may need the skilled hand of an attorney to negotiate a favorable outcome short of a theft-related conviction and incarceration. After all, Retail Fraud charges are criminal, not civil, and they are brought by the State (not an individual or company). Returning the goods or offering to pay will probably not change the likelihood of prosecution. 

If you are being investigated or charged with Retail Fraud in Washtenaw County or throughout Southeastern Michigan, please contact Dan Geherin and his firm at GLG Michigan immediately. We’re available 24/7, we will listen to the circumstances, devise a plan to handle your case, and fight aggressively to restore your reputation and protect your freedom. Schedule online at GLG Michigan or call 24/7 (734) 263-2780. Geherin Law Group: Defending Retail Fraud and other white-collar allegations throughout Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County and Southeastern Michigan. 

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