As the largest and most profitable company in the world, Walmart is an infamously popular place to steal from. Their stores are typically quite large, making it easy for shoplifters to evade security. Walmart is also known for being fairly lax on shoplifters, but today we’re going to dig into why that is and if they’re really as lax as people say they are.
What happens when you get caught stealing from Walmart depends on a variety of factors. Each Walmart store is unique and might respond slightly differently to shoplifters.
Here is a list of things that might happen to a Walmart shoplifter:
- You could be let off with a warning
- You could get banned from Walmart temporarily
- You could get banned from Walmart permanently
- You could get charged with misdemeanor shoplifting
- You could get charged with felony shoplifting
If you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony, you could face anywhere from six months to several years in prison, and you could also face up to $10,000 in fines.
The factors that determine what your consequences will be as a shoplifter include:
- How old you are
- How much you stole
- Whether you have been caught stealing before
- Where you live
What To Do If You’re Charged With
If you’re caught stealing at Walmart, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll be charged with shoplifting.
First, we’ll go over what to do if you’re stopped and/or detained as a suspected shoplifter at Walmart:
- Do not admit fault – Even if you were caught “red-handed,” do not admit guilt. This can help you in the long run if you are charged and need to build a case for yourself.
- Call an attorney – While you’re detained, you legally have the right to call an attorney at any time. Even if you don’t have an attorney on hand, you can use your phone to search for a local law firm and give them a call.
- Limit what you say until you’ve received legal counsel – Anything you say while being detained can be used against you if Walmart decides to press charges, so make sure not to say much until you’ve received professional advice from an attorney.
If you are formally charged with shoplifting, seek legal counsel immediately.
What Is Walmart’s Shoplifting Policy?
Walmart does not publicize their shoplifting policy, so we had to source our information from a variety of sources, including legal experts and former Walmart employees.
The first thing to know is that Walmart associates, cashiers, and salespeople are not allowed to stop, apprehend, or detain suspected shoplifters. However, salaried managers as well as Walmart’s dedicated security staff (also known as Asset Protection Associates or Loss Prevention Associates) are allowed to stop and detain suspected shoplifters until authorities arrive. Hourly associates are allowed to report shoplifting activity to managers or APAs as long as they witnessed the behavior firsthand.
If you have been detained and/or if Walmart’s security cameras catch you stealing, Walmart will most likely call 911 and expect you to wait until the police arrive. Technically speaking, Walmart employees (regardless of position) are not allowed to touch suspected shoplifters. However, there are plenty of stories of physical altercations breaking out between shoplifters and Walmart security guards. Walmart staff is also not technically allowed to follow suspected shoplifters into a bathroom.
While it might come as a shock, it’s important to be aware that Walmart employs armed security guards. Not every APA at Walmart carries a gun, but some Walmart security guards are armed. Unfortunately, Walmart security guards have shot and injured shoplifters in the past. In 2021, a shoplifter named Alexander Richard Yell was shot three times by a Walmart security guard in Kennewick, Washington.
As a first-time offender, if you are caught stealing less than $25 worth of merchandise from Walmart, you will not be charged and Walmart will not involve the authorities. However, up to the discretion of the management, you may be banned from that Walmart location for as little as one day or potentially for life.
If you are caught stealing more than $25 worth of items and/or if you have been caught shoplifting previously, there is a high likelihood that Walmart will press charges against you. Once the authorities are involved, you will likely be arrested and charged with misdemeanor or felony shoplifting depending on how much you attempted to steal.
While shoplifting laws and definitions vary from state to state, felony shoplifting is typically defined as stealing $750 or more worth of merchandise. If you are caught stealing between $25 and $750 worth of merchandise, you will likely be charged with a misdemeanor.
Again, these definitions and charges can vary widely from state to state, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the laws in your area. In some places, felony shoplifting can carry hefty prison sentences as well as up to $10,000 in fines. Even misdemeanor shoplifting charges can carry jail time in some states.
Examples of shoplifting include:
- Pocketing an item or items while shopping
- Removing an item’s security tag to avoid the alarm system
- Switching barcodes or UPC codes to get a lower price on an item
- Moving an item into a sale section to receive a lower price
- Intentionally not scanning certain items when using the self checkout
- Putting on merchandise in the changing room or bathroom and wearing it out of the store without paying
Stopping People From Stealing At Self-Checkout
Walmart loses a lot of money every year to inventory loss at self checkout. This is because self checkout is more difficult to monitor, and shoplifters are much more likely to use self checkout as a way of concealing theft.
To combat inventory loss at self checkout, Walmart implements the following methods:
- Anytime self checkout is open, a Walmart associate is tasked with monitoring the customers using these machines
- If an associate suspects that a customer is attempting to steal at self checkout, they can intervene by offering to help the customer ring up the skipped item(s)
- Most items sold at Walmart are equipped with security mechanisms that activate the alarm system at the door if the item is not purchased and scanned properly
- Walmart stores are equipped with an extensive security camera system to build evidence against shoplifters
- Walmart employs dedicated Asset Protection or Loss Prevention Associates who are allowed to confront and detain suspected shoplifters
Does Walmart Have A Strict Stealing Policy?
Walmart has a zero-tolerance policy against shoplifters, so you could certainly say that their policy is strict. However, there is a lot that Walmart will not do to suspected shoplifters due to legal risks to the company. That said, Walmart’s shoplifting policy is as strict as it can be without creating legal liability.
Here are some examples of how Walmart’s shoplifting policy is somewhat reserved:
- The majority of Walmart’s in-store employees are not allowed to follow, confront, accuse, or detain suspected shoplifters
- Walmart employees are not allowed to touch or physically apprehend suspected shoplifters in any way
- Walmart employees are not allowed to follow suspected shoplifters into bathrooms or changing rooms
- Because Walmart employees are not allowed to physically engage with suspected shoplifters, these people could theoretically leave of their own will before the authorities arrive
What is Walmart’s first offense in shoplifting?
This depends. If you’re caught stealing less than $25 worth of merchandise, it’s likely you’ll be let off with a warning and potentially banned from the store you stole from. However, if you’re caught stealing a high-price tag item, Walmart may choose to involve the authorities. A first-time shoplifting offense can still carry serious consequences, such as jail time and fines. If you are under the age of 18, stealing for the first time, and the item(s) you attempted to steal don’t exceed $25 in value, then the chances that you’ll be charged with theft are quite low.
Can you get re-hired at Walmart after stealing?
No. Walmart does not rehire ex-employees who were fired due to shoplifting.
Can you get fired for stealing at Walmart?
Absolutely. If you are caught stealing from Walmart as an employee, you will almost certainly be fired. The only exception to this is if you are caught stealing from a different Walmart location from where you work. If the Walmart employees that deal with your shoplifting case don’t know that you’re a Walmart employee at another store, you might be able to avoid losing your job.
How long does Walmart have to press charges for shoplifting?
This depends. In some states, businesses have up to two years to press misdemeanor charges against shoplifters, but this varies by region. It’s important to know that even if you successfully leave Walmart with your shoplifted goods, you could still be arrested and charged with shoplifting if Walmart has ample evidence against you.
Stealing from Walmart is a complex undertaking, and it’s best avoided entirely due to the serious potential consequences. Even in the best case scenario, shoplifters are banned from Walmart, and in the worst case scenarios, you could receive several years of prison time, be faced with excessive fines, or even be physically injured.
Walmart is very serious when it comes to shoplifting, though there are many things they refrain from doing in order to protect themselves from countersuits.
The best way to avoid consequences for shoplifting at Walmart is to avoid shoplifting altogether.