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Too many gift-givers misinterpret the holiday message. Under pressure, it becomes "20-some shoplifting days till Christmas."

December is a key month for retailers. Some 50 percent of their business for the year is conducted in December. The crowds brought in to shop, however, also provide camouflage for both the habitual shoplifter and the shopper who may bend his or her normal ethics in the face of an overwhelming gift list -- and the overwhelming marketing aimed at making the season a success for the retailer.

Thus, December is also the month retailers face the highest rate of shoplifting.

As an attorney, I have seen the consequences of shoplifting at work many times.

Shoplifting doesn't do anybody any favors. Stores face lost income. Shoppers pay more for goods to cover the losses. And every shoplifter is caught at some point in his or her career. When they are caught, the holiday spirit quickly evaporates.

Shoplifting property valued at less than $1,000 is a misdemeanor in this state. Stealing anything worth more than $1,000 is a felony. Shoplifting firearms of any value is a felony.

A person doesn't have to walk out of the store with the goods to be charged with shoplifting. Although most security personnel will wait to see if a person pays for merchandise, people can be charged for simply concealing it while inside the store or for changing price tags or transferring merchandise from one container to another.

Even if criminal charges are not filed, or if you go to trial for shoplifting and are found not guilty, in New York State the store has the right to sue you.

Spending the holidays facing a criminal or civil prosecution isn't anyone's idea of a great gift.


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