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It sounds like they are not involving the police so you don't have to worry about criminal charges potentially being filed, but they can pursue a civil claim.
Illinois law allows merchants who are victims of retail theft to sue the offender in civil court, and if the offender is a minor his or her parent/guardian is liable. Retailers are able to recover damages for the following:
- Actual damages equal to the full retail value of the merchandise;
- An amount no less than $100 nor more than $1,000; and
- Attorney’s fees and court costs.
Most large retail chains, like Kohls, for example, have an agreement with a law firm to send out “civil demand letters” to everyone that has been caught shoplifting in their store, even if that person was found not guilty or the police were not called. These letters often say that a “fine” must be paid, however, retailers cannot levy fines against a person; only a court can do that. It is possible for the retailers to take you to court but usually the cost to the company is not equal to the cost of the item stolen.
If you choose not to pay the civil penalty, the collection agency could file a complaint in civil court for the recovery of the penalty and additionally request attorneys’ fees and court costs as well. This can add quite a bit of money to the amount you might owe.
I worked for a firm years ago that used to send out hundreds of these letters a day, but almost never pursued people. I'm not telling you not to pay it -because they could go after you and it can go on your credit report -just know that it's a civil matter, not criminal.
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