It’s easy to feel like money is tight during the holidays, especially when you want to get gifts for your friends and family. But if you ever find yourself tempted to pocket an item in a crowded store, you might want to think again.

Michigan is tough on shoplifting—otherwise known as “retail fraud.” You can face jail time for the theft of goods worth less than $200. Depending on the value of the items, retail fraud charges could lead to as many as 5 years behind bars, plus fines of $10,000 or more. And the law targets more than just the “five-fingered discount.”

What is retail fraud?

Michigan’s penal code offers a few different definitions of retail fraud, including:

  • Stealing
  • Trying to purchase an item you have marked with a false, discounted price
  • Exchanging or returning items for which you did not pay

In short, if you go into a store and try to cheat the system, you could be committing retail fraud.

Retail fraud is commonly prosecuted

Despite the threat of sharp punishments, many people continue to commit retail fraud. And the number often rises during the holidays. With the increase in shoplifting, though, comes an increase in prosecution.

Store owners make their money by selling goods, and retail fraud hurts their bottom line. They prosecute to recover the money they lost, as well as to send a message to other, would-be thieves.

How to respond to charges of retail fraud

Facing charges alone is rarely a good idea, so you should consider getting a lawyer. Your lawyer can review the case against you, including any surveillance footage, and help you formulate your defense. This could be anything from getting ready to go to trial and shoot holes in the prosecution’s story to pleading for a diversion program. Some counties, including Kent, offer diversion programs that allow qualified offenders to avoid convictions and all their secondary consequences.