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4 key points about shoplifting charges

You never thought you'd face criminal charges, but now that day has come. The police accused you of shoplifting. What started out as a simple trip to the mall has turned into one of the worst days of your life.

You're also worried that it's going to define your life moving forward. What impact are the allegations going to have on your reputation? What will friends and family members think? If you run your own business, will the charges impact the way people see your company? If you are an employee, would you ever get fired based on the criminal charges?

As you can see, there are a lot of questions to ask that go far beyond the event itself, the law and the sentence you may face. You can't take shoplifting charges lightly. Below are four key things you should know:

1. You have to act willfully or intentionally.

For instance, someone else comes by and drops an item into your bag, which is sitting in your cart while you're looking at a rack of clothes. You don't know it. You don't buy anything and walk out, triggering the alarm on the way. This is clearly not your fault, even though it certainly looks that way when they search your bag.

2. You must intend to deprive the store of money.

You grab three items and put them in your cart. You're looking at a forth item as you walk up to the front of the store. As you get your wallet out near the registers, you absentmindedly put that fourth item into a bag from another store. It's completely an accident. You never intended to rob the store, but walked off with the item after proving you really wanted to pay by buying the other three items.

3. You don't have to leave.

You can get accused of shoplifting without actually leaving the store. This is the other side of intent -- since it's required, you can face accusations that you tried to shoplift, even if you're not successful. For instance, you purposefully slip some jewelry into your pocket after a clerk turns her back. Security sees you do it on camera and approaches you before you get out of the store.

4. Altering prices may also count.

Shoplifting doesn't always mean directly stealing items. Deprivation of compensation is the real key. For instance, if you find an item with a price tag saying it costs $250 and then you scratch off the two so that it says $50, you could face charges if caught. This is less common now, with computerized systems, but still possible in some settings.

You're not wrong to think about your future and your reputation as you face charges. Drastic ramifications could follow. No matter what happened, make sure you know your legal options.

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