When December rolls around each year, the stores are filled with people frantically trying to cross everything off their shopping lists before Christmas hits.
But it’s also the time that, for whatever reason, shoplifters hit the shops in record numbers, too.
Busy staff and large crowds create the perfect environment for shoplifting to occur undetected, especially in the bigger stores.
But a recent police blitz, code-named Operation Lightfingers, meant this was not the case for over 100 alleged shoplifters, including one female who is said to have returned to the same store twice in the one day.
Areas targeted included the Sydney CBD, Bondi Junction and Broadway.
The crimes ranged from the predictable theft charges (called ‘larceny’) up to assault, escaping from police custody and reckless or intentional damage.
One man was said to have been in possession of a magnetic de-tagging device, used to take the tags of retail goods.
Another told police he had been stealing his lunch from the supermarket every day for the last two weeks.
The Daily Telegraph reported that the 31-year-old had been stealing sushi from the supermarket.
He was issued an infringement notice.
110 people were arrested in total – 34 of whom were charged and will need to face court, 60 of whom were issued criminal infringement notices and seven of whom were given youth cautions.
One person even got a cannabis caution.
All kinds of goods were allegedly recovered, including perfume, groceries and clothing.
Shoplifting accounts for billions of dollars of loss each year, and according to the NSW Police Force, it accounts for 40% of reported shop losses.
However the actual loss caused by shoplifting is not known, due to underreporting and inaccuracy of shop reporting.
A large proportion of retail theft is actually undertaken by employees – 62% is the number given by the Australian Institute of Criminology.
Police have warned that the crackdown will continue in the lead-up to Christmas.
They advise that trained security guards and CCTV cameras make it more likely that offenders will be caught.
What are the penalties for shoplifting?
Shoplifting is a type of larceny, and the penalties depend on the value of the goods stolen.
For goods worth $5,000 or less, the maximum penalty is 12 months imprisonment and or a fine of $5,500.
However if the amount stolen is worth over $5,000, the maximum penalty increases, to two years imprisonment and/or a fine of $5,500.
If you are charged with larceny, it is most likely you will face a fine, not prison time.
But a fine still carries a criminal record, so engaging in theft, even a minor one, could have long-term consequences.
You may be able to avoid a conviction if you plead guilty by convincing the Magistrate to grant you a ‘section 10’ or, if you have a mental health condition, by making a ‘section 32 application’.
A criminal defence lawyer can advise you about these possible outcomes.
For shoplifting, it is also possible that you will not go to court at all – a Criminal Infringement Notice (CIN) can be issued instead.
A CIN works as an on the spot fine and it can be issued for stealing goods worth less than $300. The fine is $300.
Like other fines, you have 21 days to pay it, or you can take the matter to court if you want to fight it.
What can I do if I have been accused of shoplifting?
Police or shop assistants might ask to search your bags, but neither of them have the right to randomly rifle through your belongings.
Shop assistants or security guards may ask you to open your bag or to move things around, however this is not a legal right and they may not touch your bag.
You can only be made to stay in the store if they are certain that you committed a crime – for example, they actually saw you put something in your bag.
Police have more authority to search or detain you, however this must still be based on a ‘reasonable suspicion’.
For more information on your rights when you have been accused of shoplifting, read our blog on what rights do shop assistants or security guards have to search my bag?