E-Rant: Having to Prove You’re Not a Thief

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Here’s a short rant on this business of having to prove you’re not a thief at Big Box stores. It’s of a piece with this business of having to prove you’re not a “drunk” at random checkpoints.

Both are premised on the inversion of the old idea that people who haven’t done anything – or given reason to suspect they may have – have a right to be left alone.

What do you think? Is it an outrage to be treated like a thief just because you went shopping?

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  1. Stores like Sam’s & Costco it’s part of the membership agreement to which you are a party.

    Other stores like Wal-Mart…as Eric says, you can just walk out.

    I always waive & say “have a nice day” because everything’s on camera nowadays.

    If they “put hands on me” I’d go limp as a jellyfish…any contingency-fee attorney can negotiate a settlement later…bonus if they knock me around, think of that doctor on the United flight…

  2. This is NOTHING like having to prove that you’re not drunk.

    With the DWI things:
    You can be stopped at random.
    You have a right to be on the road and to be left alone if there is no reasonable suspicion that you have harmed someone (Which rights, of course, gov’t does not respect).
    You face severe penalties for ‘not complying”
    You are being threatened with violence.

    Whereas, at Walmart:
    You have no ‘right’ to be on their property, and by choosing to shop there, you are agreeing to the terms they set over their own property.
    You can choose to shop somewhere else; since you have no right to patronize any particular store, you do so only because that store offers convenience and or low prices, etc.
    You are not being threatened with violence.
    You are not being interfered with randomly- as their policy is to inspect all non-bagged items, which is the only reasonable way they can protect themselves against people just walking out with what ever they want and not paying.
    There is no penalty, unless you actually steal or initiate violence.
    The rights of a property owner trump any civil rights you have, while on their property.

    I fail to see what is so terrible about a store wanting to ensure that merchandise which might have been paid for or not, indeed is, before you leave their premises. Yes, they don’t trust you. Why should they? Believe me, if YOU owned a store or a shop, you would eye all customers as potential thieves and cheats too.

    HOW, pray tell, is Walmart supposed to tell the difference between you and some guy who walks in, throws something in a cart, and walks out, bypassing the cashier; or who tells the cahsier “I paid in electronics” or “at the pharmacy”? (And if the cashier would ask for proof of that payment, how would that differ from the “greeter” asking for it at the door?

    We should affirm any business’s right to practice what ever policies they desire, whether we like them or not; and simply not patronize businesses whose policies we don’t like. To abhor their policies and to shop there anyway, while refusing to comply with those policies, seems hypocritical- especially from Libertarians of all people.

    Now if a cop were to come up to you outside, and at random demand to see your receipt for your purchases, that would be completely different.

    The idea that “The merchandise becomes your property once you pay” while true, is not being diminished by them wanting to ensure that you have indeed paid while leaving the store where you purchased that property. It was their property 10 seconds ago; the guy at the door has no way of knowing if you indeed paid for that unbagged item. This is what we agree to when we enter the store; it is a slight trade-off that we make in order to uphold the business’s rights, which trump our while we are in their store.

    The only alternativers are to either allow people to just walk out ewith anything on the honor system, or to herd us all as cattle by making it physically impossible to leave without passing through a check-out lane- which, is actually MUCH more invasive, dehumanizing and inconvenient.

    [Sorry if I’m repeating myself here from the other thread…but I just can’t resist! ;( It’s so rare that I disagree with you, Eric!]

    • Oh, and one other thing I haven’t seen mentioned yet:

      What about people who have stuff under the cart, and legitimately FORGET to pay? Oftentimes, the cashiers can’t even see that there is stuff under the cart. I almost forgot something under the cart once, myself!

      The receipt-checking “greeter”: would catch that. Now here’s the thing: If you had something under the cart and never noticed it, and refused to have your receipt checked, you would likely be charged with shoplifting- which, in my opinion would be perfectly justifiable. BUT, if you stop and show your receipt when asked, they assume that by doing so, you were not trying to steal, but merely forgot about the stuff under the cart.

    • Nunzio – Walmart can certainly ASK to verify the items in your cart. They can also ASK you to sing “zippity-doo-dah” as you exit the store, and you have the same legal duty to “comply” by singing that song of the “banned” 1946 Disney film “Song of the South” as you to submit to a verification of you purchase. And, of course, Wal-Mart has every right to set terms of businesses, and if you don’t like it, you can take your business elsewhere.

      Where it becomes a problem is when WM personnel try to physically stop you or attempt to seize YOUR property as you leave the store, or even ,worse, off-duty cops working “security” misusing their powers of seizure and/or arrest to enforce this misguided policy. Only when either has probable cause can you be arrested on suspicion of theft; else, it’s a variety of crimes and/or torts, including false imprisonment, battery, robbery, and so on.

      Me, I just politely walk by and if challenged by the “greeter”, I just say, “I don’t do ‘receipt checks’ and KEEP WALKING.

      • But Doug, by that logic, then someone can just walk in to Wallyworld, and load-up a $500 item, and walk right out with it, without paying- and by your logic, Walmart would have no right to stop them if they did not oblige the request to.

        WM can not tell just by looking at you, whether your unbagged item is paid for or not- if they don’t have the right to determine/ask for proof before one leaves their property, then it just becomes a free-for-all.

        They DO have that right, because you agreed to it when you entered their store. I’m glad that they have that right, because it is an upholding up our right to contract, and have our contracts upheld; and of our right to set our own bidness practices and terms and conditions in our own businesses and on our own property.

        That’s what it boils down to. It’s easy to look at it like “Walmart is a big evil corporation”- but really, what applies to Walmart applies to Aunt Prunella’s Cafe or your house. It’s bad enough that Uncle has already stripped away most of our rights- such as the right to choose to refuse service to whomever we care to; or the right to discriminate, etc. Let us not join the leftists in helping them finishing off what is left of our property and contractual rights.

        Hey, I’ve blown past them too- and still do if there’s a line (And still might on occasion, just to screw with them! :D)- but if they decide to pursue me, I’m not going to initiate violence or resist them, merely because I’ve agreed to be vetted by entering their store- and I would be in the wrong if I tried to evade or rebuff them physically.

        • Hi Nunz,

          If Wal-Mart or any other store has reason to believe someone has stolen an item, then – of course – they have the right to attempt to prevent the theft. But what Wal-Mart is doing is a different thing. It is “investigating” – and detaining – people who have given Wal Mart no reason whatsoever to suspect them of having stolen merchandise. Their mere presence in the store is taken as presumptive evidence of thievery.

          That doesn’t wash.

          They have every right to ask any person they like for a receipt – but no right to demand it or detain (even for a few moments) innocent people who’ve done nothing to give anyone reason to suspect they’ve stolen a got-damned thing.

    • I beg to differ. Yes, stores are technically private property and therefore, the owner(s) do have every right to enforce their own policies and whoever sets foot on said property is indeed subject to said policies, but TO A POINT. That still doesn’t give the owner the right to detain or even harass innocent people simply because they feel like it. If that were the case, then what’s to keep the owner from, say, molesting a woman? Perhaps I over-exaggerated a bit there; but the point is private properties are NOT exempt from the law (albeit the law itself is a joke to say the least, but I digress).

      • Hi Bluegrey,

        I don’t believe you are exaggerating. Why not pat downs? And more. And this is why I object – and will not comply. The precedent being set – the normalization of degradation – is horrendous as well as dangerous.

        I own my house. But the fact that I do own it doesn’t mean I get to stick my hands down the pants of any good-looking woman who comes onto my property – even if I have a sign posted advising her of “terms and conditions.”

        The practice of treating customers as presumptive thieves is a despicable one. It breaches what heretofore had been explicit as well as implicit: That – as a customer – you were entitled to be treated with respect and courtesy unless you’d given some reason to withdraw those things.

        The mere fact that you are in their store isn’t sufficient to withdraw respect and courtesy and demand proof that your customer isn’t a thief.

        It’s low, dishonorable and loathsome.

        Also, lazy and cowardly.

        They do this because it’s easier than to confront/deal with actual thieves; they are afraid of being called names by thieves.

        And we – honorable people – are supposed to sigh and accept it?

        Not me.

        • Hey Ya, Eric!

          ***”They do this because it’s easier than to confront/deal with actual thieves; they are afraid of being called names by thieves.””*****

          Don’t think so. They do it, because if they didn’t they wouldn’t necessarily KNOW who the real thieves are- without having each and every customer under constant human surveillance, and tracking them from the time they enter the store, till the time they leave- which would be very impractical; hiddeously expensive; and much more creepy than merely showinbg that you paid as you leave.

      • Yes, Bluegrey- that is it, exactly!

        The owner have a right….TO A POINT.

        And also, in the same manner, we have our rights on while on their premises TO A POINT.

        And if the law matters (as opposed to just the mutual cooperation which would exist in an anarchist society), we end up in the same place. I’m not going to look up the actual citations, but there have been a few cases in recent history where these issues have been hashed out in court, and they have actually said, to the effect, that when we are in a public place [public, in this sense being a place which may be privately owned, but in which the public are generally allowed to be) that we do not have quite the same level of an expectation of privacy that we do when on our own property or on the street.

        And that is reasonable. If either party (The store owner OR the shopper) had an absolute expectation of privacy or the ability to do as they please, then it would be virtually impossible for stores to function- and we would need to go back to a model (as was common 100+ years ago) where you merely walk up to a counter in the front of the store, and tell the clerk what you want, and he goes and gets it and hands it to you after you pay (There was a company called Service merchandise in the 70’s and 80’s that operated much like that: You went in and looked at a catalog, and then placed an order at a counter, and they’d bring it to you. It sucked!)

        Personally, I don’t give a rat’s anus about the law- being an Anarchist and all. But I do care about rights- both my own and those of others- and about mutual cooperation, which is necessary in Anarchism, and life in general for decent people- and is pretty much what most decent people practice, anyway.

        So I am willing to make the small concession of showinbg my receipt to prove that I purchased something 10 seconds ago, which I did own 20 seconds ago- in the very place where I purchased it. It would be different if I were being singled-out, or actually being accused of a crime- but merely complying with store policy while in the store, just is not a problem for me.

        If they didn’t ask to see my receipt, and then followed me to truck and interrogated me; or if a cop came along in the parking lot, or on the road after I left, that would be different, if there were no reasonable cause for suspicion.

        The courts have actually ruled that not showing your receipt when asked, and then leaving, constitutes reasonable cause.

        Coincidentally, I wernt shopping today! Had a cart full- as I shop for two households. Had a big empty plastic bin under the cart. Get to the door and the “greeter” is checking someone else’s stuff, so I just went around them. Nothing was said.

        But that’s the gist of it; It would be unfair, as you pointed out, for the store owner to do WHATEVER he wanted….but the burden can not be fully on him; It is also unfair for us to demand 100% privacy, while in public and on private property. Thus, the way it is, seems perfectly fair and reasonable to me.

        We as Libertarians/Anarchists should be able to handle these matters fairly, whether by only shopping at stores where we feel we are treated as we should be, or by giving up a little to cooperate and ensure that the other guy can also protect his rights- without resorting to Uncle to force others to do what we deem acceptable.

        • Couldn’t agree more! It all boils down to respect and like you said, the last thing we need is to get “Uncle” involved because once that happens, then everyone loses.

          BTW, I remember going to a Service Merchandise with my grandmother back in the 90’s when I used to live in SC. Couldn’t quite grasp the whole concept of that particular store. Thanks for shedding light on it.

  3. like you eric i simply waive as i walk out…they can chase me if they want and engage in all the conversation they want to as i go to the car, but i’m sure they won’t lay hands on. if they did i think i’d be compelled to return the favor. that would totally ruin the walmart experience!

    here’s an new idea…next time they ask for a receipt go ahead and give it to them and tell ’em to be sure and recycle as you continue on your way. they asked for a receipt and you gave it to them…

    • “here’s an new idea…next time they ask for a receipt go ahead and give it to them and tell ’em to be sure and recycle as you continue on your way. they asked for a receipt and you gave it to them…”

      Not exactly a smart move. Funny, yes, but not smart because if you needed to return an item, then the joke may end up being on you.

  4. ken, sears failure had little to do with the mariachi music…their time came and went with cassettes, passenger train travel, transistor radios and bias ply tires. the world moved simply past their business plan. i LOVE their diehard boots (roofing destroys boots) and buy them ONLINE three at a time when they’re on sale. they show up at my house a few days later and i never went neat their store. it’s great. the rest of their stuff is good but not worth a visit to their store

  5. This is the exact reason that I try my best to avoid the local Welfa…..WalMart. Due to rampant shoplifting in the area, it made a degree of sense to do the Costco-esque receipt check thing on those who were pushing full and/or multiple carts.

    Then the policy went haywire, and I found myself stopped getting my receipt pored over for a bag of ice and 2 cucumbers, while the tweakers kept on pushing the multiple carts full of unbagged merchandise right out the door. As is typical of blind “policy” zombies, the store management finds it easier to terrorize those least likely to present an actual threat, while allowing the source of the problem to continue unabated.

  6. The easy solution to the problem is to eliminate self-service. Back before the A&P, stores would have items on display behind a shelf. You asked for an item and a clerk would retrieve it for you. When A&P invented the shopping cart and modern store design, it was able to lower costs and take business away from their competitors, who eventually had to capitulate to market forces. Also increased customer satisfaction because they were able to pick produce themselves instead of possibly getting poor quality from the clerks. I can’t find it now, but I know I’ve seen a picture taken of an early A&P and even then there was a low wooden fence and turnstile at the cash register. In the 1980s I visited a record shop in Ireland. We were surprised to find that none of the bins had records, only the jackets. When we purchased the records a clerk went in the back and filled the jackets. At the mall, K-Mart would staple bags from other stores shut at the entrance. This pissed off my mother so much that she refused to shop there and would usually have some comment when dad would (they were usually much cheaper than Sears or Penn Traffic, so dad loved it and thought mom was a snob (which she probably is)).

    Shrinkage is about 1% of a store’s operating expense. In a low margin high competition environment, 1% is a pretty big cost. Anything that can be done to reduce it will probably directly impact the P&L of the store. So we get security tags, cameras, personnel watching the exits, and receipt checks. One big advantage of Amazon is that they probably don’t have to worry about their customers ripping them off directly, although I’m sure a lot of people file claims for products that arrived on time, or engage in credit card fraud. Not to mention warehouse employee “discounts.” It would be nice if people were civil and moral, but people have an amazing ability to twist their bad behavior into justification for theft. No one ever feels bad for the casino that gets ripped off. And it doesn’t help that one of the early exposures to moral behavior is the old “Is it wrong for a starving man to steal bread?” fallacy. Of course it is. There are always alternatives (including pleading your case to the shop owner), and most are far less distasteful or risky than theft. But that’s not what a 6 year old kid can understand. But that’s not what most of the shrinkage is about. It’s mostly teenagers looking for a thrill or unable to pass the marshmallow test. Everyone is tempted and has opportunity for 5 finger discounts, but that’s where proper upbringing makes the difference. When everyone around you abandons morals (or appears to) it is game on.

    And then there’s the sliding scale of criminal activity, and what’s done (or not) about it. The real moral hazard of too big to fail banks isn’t just that they can socialize their losses, but that anyone who’s caught stealin’ can resolve their internal guilt by focusing on the “horrible” stuff that happens on an institutional scale. The few times a petty thief is incarcerated it becomes more grist for the mills of leftist outrage. And the rise of cyber criminals and online fraud, coupled with the complete lack of action by our self-appointed AGWs means this activity will only get much worse in the future, probably ending the online communications revolution we’ve enjoyed these past decades. In many Democratic stronghold cities police are no longer considering shoplifiting and smash-and-grab car thefts a crime. And look at the extortion of criminals encrypting hard drives then demanding payment for the decryption keys. The only recommendation from law enforcement is pay and file a claim with your insurance company. Unacceptable in my eye, especially when we have so many police running speed checks.

  7. You’re correct Eric. It’s called Political Correctness. The reason they do this is they’re have become afraid of the racism charges. Walmart and many others depend on government money. Today more shop at these stores with government money, food stamps WIC and other giveaways then actual shoppers with earned money. Therefore the store itself is on welfare and doesn’t want to risk a boycott.

    The management of stores have become heavily politicized. I’m not sure they’re even concerned with earnings any more. Dicks for example stopped the sale of firearms. This incredibly hurt their bottom line but they don’t care,,, until they’re in bankruptcy court,,, then they simply claim sales have dropped off the cliff without bothering to mention why.
    Take Sears for example. Back in 2005 I was informed by a manager they my type (White) was no longer welcome,,, that Sears was moving the Mexico and other Latin America locations. This was as a result of asking an employee why all the music was Mexican. I wondered if it was some sort of holiday in Mexico. Spoke this to a employee and he called the manager,,, who was White. I wrote the management in Chicago telling them I would no longer shop their until they were going out of business. I gave them ten years… I was wrong, it was 14 years before the store where I live was shut down. Today in the Pensacola Florida area there are no Sears or Kmarts. All due to a politically correct race agenda and made in China.

    As for the DUI checkpoints,,, again Political correctness. Cops could easily sit down the road from bars and catch all sorts of DUI drivers but that today is considered entrapment. Besides,,, it much more fun to show the general public who their daddy is.

    Everything happening today is due to political correctness. When cops kill a POC it’s all over the news,,, kill a White and it barely makes local news. Sites that used to carry this type of news ( Alex Jones, Zerohedge, ets) has been scared off or bought off due to political correctness.

    Political Correctness is the new law in the land… I recently read a man claimed he was persecuted because he was black gave that as a reason for the rape of a White woman. Today I read of a Lesbian couple being beaten in London. One came out with a hate filled response blaming it all on Whites. They nor the police will give out the race of the individuals so we can probably guess it was ‘Teens’. PC, so powerful that people will not blame the actual perp if he belongs to a protected group.

    PC is what is ruining America… It’s so powerful that we are no longer allowed to defend our borders. We are shipping people that hate us all over the country and providing them with more opportunities then actual citizens. I give the country 20-30 years at the outside before total destruction. More like ten years. Soon sites like yours and comments like mine will not be allowed. We might even be punished by fines and imprisonment. It’s already happening in Canada, Australia, UK and much of Europe. Of course mny Americans have eyes wide shut. As usual they won’t wake until it’s too late. I have watched this since a child. At 70 I think I am old enough to see the trend.