Returning an item under the false pretense that it was lawfully purchased in an attempt to receive cash or store credit is a crime known as retail/return fraud. In Texas, this is considered to be a form of theft.
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What Are Some Examples of Retail Fraud?
Common types of retail/return fraud include:
- “Return” of stolen merchandise for cash or store credit
- Employees in collusion with external sources to fraudulently return merchandise
- Using counterfeit receipts to get money back for items that were never purchased
- Return of merchandise purchased with fraudulent or stolen tender
- Returns made by organized retail crime groups
- Wardrobing/renting — returning items after they have already been used
According to a report by Appris Retail, losses from return fraud in the U.S. in 2018 were estimated to be around $18.4 billion! In Texas, the dollar amount was just over a billion dollars.
Penalties for Retail/Return Fraud in Texas
Texas state law defines theft as “appropriation of property without the owner’s effective consent.” Retail/return fraud certainly fits that description. With over a billion dollars in losses in Texas annually, state and local law enforcement are getting tough on return fraud.
Being arrested for retail/return fraud can get you into some very serious trouble. The charges and fines you’ll face after being arrested for retail/return fraud in Texas depends on the value of the property that was stolen:
- Class C misdemeanor if the value of the property stolen is less than $100 (if convicted you could receive a fine of up to $500).
- Class B misdemeanor if the value of the property stolen is $100 or more but less than $750; or in circumstances where the value of the property stolen is less than $100 but the you have previously been convicted of theft (if convicted you could receive a fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to 180 days in jail).
- Class A misdemeanor if the value of the property stolen is $750 or more but less than $2,500 (if convicted you could receive a fine of up to $4,000 and/or up to one year in jail).
- A State Jail Felony if the value of the property stolen is $2,500 or more but less than $30,000 or in cases where the value of the property that was stolen was less than $2,500 but you have two or more prior convictions for theft (if convicted you could receive a fine of up to $10,000 and/or between 180 days and two years in jail).
- Third Degree Felony if the value of the property stolen is $30,000 or more but less than $150,000 (if convicted you could receive a fine of up to $10,000 and/or between 2 and 20 years’ imprisonment).
- Second Degree Felony if the value of the property stolen is $150,000 or more but less than $300,000 (if convicted you could receive a fine of up to $10,000 and/or between 2 and 20 years’ imprisonment).
- First degree Felony if the value of the property stolen is $300,000 or more (if convicted you could receive a fine of up to $10,000 and/or between 5 and 99 years’ imprisonment
In addition to hefty fines and the possibility of jail time, having a conviction for retail/return fraud on your record could make it hard to get a job, enroll in school or find a place to live. If you’ve been arrested for retail/return fraud in Houston or elsewhere in Texas, the first thing you need to do is contact a criminal defense attorney to protect your rights.
Frequently Asked Questions About Retail Fraud in Texas
In Texas, the statute of limitations for theft charges varies depending on the specific type of offense. Generally, it is two to five years from the date of the incident in question. However, cases involving more serious thefts might have a longer period of limitation — sometimes up to ten years or longer.
In Houston retail fraud cases, prior convictions can have a significant impact on the potential sentencing guidelines, fines and jail time that the accused may face. If the accused is convicted of the same type of offense multiple times, they will likely face harsher consequences than someone convicted for a first-time offense. Enhanced sentencing may include longer prison sentences and/or higher fines.
Generally speaking, once a theft charge is reported to Texas law enforcement, an investigation will be launched that includes evidence gathering and interviews with witnesses and victims. If enough evidence exists, an arrest will be made and an arraignment date set. At this hearing, the accused will be informed of the charges against them and allowed to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
Following the arraignment, pretrial hearings are held to determine if any motions can be granted and to set scheduling for future proceedings. During this time, offers of plea deals from prosecutors may also be tendered to defendants. If the case is unable to be resolved at this stage through a negotiated plea agreement or other means, then a trial must take place during which jurors will decide if guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Get Help from a Houston Retail/Return Fraud Defense Attorney
If you or someone you were charged with retail/return fraud in Houston or surrounding communities, Houston theft attorney Lisa Shapiro Strauss is here to help.
Lisa is dedicated to getting the best resolution possible in your case. This means doing whatever it takes to get your case dismissed and the charges against you dropped. For example, a defense against a charge of return fraud may include:
- Lack of knowledge
- Lack of intent
- Lack of evidence
- Defective security equipment
- False accusation
- Mistaken identity
If dismissal is not feasible, Lisa and her team will fight your case at trial.
Call the law offices of Houston retail/return fraud defense attorney Lisa Shapiro Strauss today to schedule a free consultation. We will review the charges against you and the circumstances that led to your arrest, explain your legal rights and offer suggestions on how to proceed in your case.