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Shoplifting Laws in Massachusetts

Contact Attorney Jason Chan

Attorney Jason Chan

267 North Beacon Street, Suite 3
Boston MA 01235

Phone: 781-343-1DUI (781-343-1384)
Fax: 617-226-7986

Shoplifting may be a relatively minor crime often associated with people who aren’t serious criminals, but it can lead to a criminal record that follows you for years.   

Most of us think of shoplifting merely as stealing merchandise from a store.  Although this conduct certainly does qualify as shoplifting, other related types of activity are considered shoplifting in Massachusetts as well.  See Mass. General Laws ch. 266 § 30a.  Briefly, these activities include:

  • Concealing items
  • Removing price tags
  • Transferring an item from its display case
  • Recording a lower price on an item
  • Removing a shopping cart from the premises

Types of Shoplifting

The most obvious form of shoplifting is intentionally taking merchandise from a store without paying for the item.  This form of theft occurs often in various types of retail establishments, from clothing retailers to convenience stores. 

Someone does not have to go so far as to leave a store to be charged with shoplifting.  Merely concealing an item with intent to deprive it from the store is also considered shoplifting.  If someone conceals an item, he may be charged with shoplifting even if he offers to pay for the item after the store confronts him.     

Removing price tags from an item and then attempting to pay less than its actual retail price is another form of shoplifting.  Here, removing the price tag shows intent to deprive the store of part of the item’s value.  Switching price tags to one with a lower amount is one example of this type of shoplifting.

Next, shoplifting can include transferring an item from one container to another with intent not to pay its full value.  For example, removing a box of cologne from a display case and placing it in a bag could constitute shoplifting under this section. 

Shoplifting can also include intentionally recording an item’s value at less than its actual retail value to pay less for the item, or intentionally removing a shopping cart from its premises. 

Shoplifting Penalties

Depending of the value of the goods at issue and the number of offenses, someone accused of shoplifting can face relatively minor or serious penalties.  If the retail value of the goods is under $100, a first-offense shoplifting charge could result in at most a $250 fine.  A second offense of this type would carry between a $100 and a $500 fine, and upon a third or subsequent offense, the offender would face up to a $500 fine and up to two years in jail. 

If the merchandise is worth $100 or more, a first offense could result in 2 ½ years in jail or a $500 fine.  The value of the property is also important because if it exceeds $250, then the offender would be charged with the more serious crime of larceny, although he or she can still be charged with larceny if the value is between $100 and $250.  Larceny carries significant penalties – offenders face up to a 5-year jail term. 

The other difference between larceny and shoplifting is that larceny refers to theft from any property owner, whereas shoplifting specifically refers to stealing from stores. 

In addition to criminal charges, store owners may compel shoplifters to pay damages for their offense.  A storeowner can do so by sending the offender a civil demand letter in which he may request payment from $50 to $500 in addition to the cost of the theft.

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