Wall Street Journal editor's ordeal with Kmart security

Laura Landro, assistant managing editor at The Wall Street Journal writes about being detained by Kmart security after they accused her of intentionally putting $24.50 shoes in a $16.50 box, known as "ticket switching."
200709192147 As soon as we stepped outside the store, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to face a serious-faced young man who identified himself as store security and asked me to step back inside. When he said the shoes I'd purchased were in the wrong box, I followed him inside, promising my family I'd be right back.

Instead, I was led to a windowless security room in the back of the store, detained for an hour and accused of deliberately switching a more expensive item into a cheaper box. The adult flip-flops, it turned out, were $24.50, and the box had been for a child's size nine, with a $16.50 price. My stunned protestations and explanations were summarily dismissed. My driver's license and credit card were temporarily confiscated, I was told to expect a civil notice of a fine by mail, and finally, I was advised never to return to the store.

Link | MP3 interview with Landro


  1. Several years ago, when my wife was a new immigrant from a country that has suffered under totalitarianism, unknowingly put a pair of $10 shoes into her purse, which she put into her cart (a practice I had warned her of), at Target. 2 hours later, after spending $150 at the store, she was apprehended by security, separated from me, and was escorted into Target’s interrogation room by 5 off-duty cops who flashed their badges at me and swore at me when I demanded to accompany her. They told me that since she didn’t deny it or make a fuss, she obviously intended to steal the shoes.

    Her reaction, having grow up in a place where you admit whatever you’re accused of to save your neck, was just to say, “yes, I did whatever you say I did, please let me go.” A month later Target sent us a ill for $500 to “recover their costs for the cvil action.” I’ll never shop at the Target on Peterson Ave. in Chicago again.

  2. And of course her retort should have been “You don’t have to worry about me even thinking of returning here.”

    K-mart sucks. I’m an excellent driver.

  3. When I read the BB blurb, I thought she simply picked up a box that someone else had switched and she was taking the blame through no fault of her own, but after reading the article, she physically removed the proper shoes from their proper box and then put some higher priced shoes into that box and then took that box up to the checkout.

    She admits doing exactly what they accused her of. In her mind it was a simple mistake but on the black and white security tape it would no doubt look indistinguishable from the actions of someone trying to rip the store out of $8.

    All she had to do was take the shoes up to the register and say, “I’m not sure how much these are, I couldn’t find the box for them.” Price check on aisle 5!

  4. Also, as you can tell, I didn’t RTFA before posting that, breaking one of my own cardinal rules. But I’m glad she gave the correct answer.

    I’m shopping online from now on.

  5. Pronounced guilty on the spot, I soon learned there is no presumption of innocence in retail, and that’s pretty much how the system is intended to work.

    So her basic defense is “they should just believe me that I wasn’t shoplifting?” i.e. she made a dumb, lazy mistake but she shouldn’t have to suffer any consequences for it? So people can ticket-switch away, safe in the knowledge that if they’re caught, they can say, “I didn’t mean to do that?” The only thing that would make her story complete is her sputtering in an indignant tone of voice, “do you know who I am?”

  6. what is she complaining about? she did what they accused her of, and they don’t appear to have treated her particularly rudely. if stores let free every person who protested innocence, it wouldn’t be much of a loss prevention policy, would it? stores treat people unfairly all the time, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

  7. Yes, she did something wrong because she did not think. It was, indeed, an unfortunate and unintentional mistake and should have been treated as such. But, it wasn’t. For a lot of reasons. (Insert comments about society going to hell in a hand basket here.)

    Given that she had just purchased $800 in merchandise, it seems to me that the store would have done better (for itself with a proactive approach rather than the negative, reactive approach it took) by accepting her story and allowing her to pay the shortfall. On the whole, by treating a good customer like a thief, she will take her (significant purchasing power) to a competitor. In addition, the publicity earned is more negative than positive for the store. Imagine how much better K-mart would have looked to her and the public if they had treated her as a valuable customer that made an honest mistake. Instead of losing sales, they would have retained her as a customer and gained some new, good customers. Bottom line… probably more profit than they will see now.

    Yes, she could be a customer (still spending significant money), writing about a bad experience in a positive light. Everyone, including the public, would have gained just a little, I think. But, instead, she isn’t a customer because K-mart chose to make her a non-customer. Their right. Yes. But, it is also their wrong.

  8. If this happens to anyone reading this, the solution is simple. Take what is YOURS, and leave quickly. If they attempt to physically detain you, move quickly. Chances are, you’ll be long gone before any police show up. IF you did steal anything and you did it on camera, you’re screwed and shouldn’t be running. If you did NOT steal anything, and you have some free time, sue them. Things may have changed since I worked in retail, but when I did we were told not to ever attempt to detain someone physically against their will. If you’re injured in any way, see a doc-in-a-box immediately and take pictures.

    And if it’s wall-mart, remember you must DESTROY the HEART!

  9. It’s really hard to feel sorry for her when her main line of defense is along the lines of “Do I look like the kind of person who would do this?” Ugh.

  10. Step 1. Document her identity and let her be on her way.

    Step 2. Detain her if she does it a second time.

    People who shoplift don’t do it only once. Stores get to know thieves.

    One time at Costco a clerk failed to ring up $200 worth of merchandise in my cart (half of a group of identical items). The clerk counted wrong and I didn’t pay attention to the receipt total.

    The receipt checker at the exit didn’t send me to a secluded room to have accusations and threats slung at me for an hour. I went back to the clerk, paid for the items and received a correct receipt. Years later, Costco still receives the business of what surely amounts to thousands of customers whom they chose not to accuse and vilify.

    A store that presumes guilt should not be in business.

  11. I don’t feel much sympathy for this woman, but I am rather annoyed at how these stores intimidate and take advantage of people’s ignorance. First, she should not have gone into the backroom with them. If they wanted her personal info, fine, but she should have known not to go. Second, take her driver’s license and credit card? WTF? I would never hand those over. She should have just gotten up and left. As we learned in another BoingBoing post (the Circuit City incident), they do not have a right to restrain you. They can TRY to detain you, but the have no right to hold you there.

  12. publiceggo has it right, in my opinion. i’m an editor at a weekly small-town newspaper, and if the same thing happened to me, sure, i’d be upset. but if, say, i chose to write about it in my regular column, it would have smug overtones of “don’t those people know who i AM?”

    it seems that if another woman in the same demographic, but with, say, a much lower income or a different skin color, would have been detained under the same conditions (and i’m pretty sure they would have), then this woman should not expect preferential treatment.

    i wouldn’t blame her for not going back there, but if she got the same treatment as anyone else would, then it’s really just a case of a little rough justice.

  13. And now, the easiest boycott in history: I will never go to Kmart again. Just like I haven’t for the last 21 years.

    At Target, the shoes have their own price tag which is the only one the cashiers use, so this kind of confusion is impossible.

  14. She got caught being stupid and should deal with it one way or the other.

    If she can take it upon herself to open a couple of boxes next to each other, then she can take it upon herself to put the items back properly.

    She’s an adult, and should understand how things are nowadays, what with working for a newspaper and all.

    That’s if she merely made a mistake.

    If she was truly ripping off the store then I’d say she wasn’t humiliated ENOUGH, and should be made to go back for further humiliation.

    Perhaps being made to stand in some kind of large, wooden restraint while shoppers taunt and stare.

    Sorry, I’m old fashioned.

  15. It’s all a matter of this assistant managing editor at The Wall Street Journal volunteering to be detained by the security staff. The only authority security staff have is to search a person on entry. Beyond that it’s only citizens arrest they can do which means they arrest you on the spot if they have personally witnessed you committing a crime and wait for police. That being said I’m fairly certain a person that holds the position of managing editor at The Wall Street Journal can easily afford flip flops from any store they want and did not intentionally swap the boxes.

    Never stop for security staff unless it is for a search on entry. If they touch you in any way excepting for a search upon entry to a premises they just committed assault and you can put them under citizens arrest for it.

  16. Insist that you be allowed to pay for the shoes, or have the police called. Paying a civil fine and being held by store security for $8 is bullshit.

    If they don’t call the police, you stand up and walk out – leaving the shoes. If they touch you, YOU call the police and report the assault.

  17. Yeah, the store saw her.

    And instead of confronting her BEFORE she checked out, they waited until she walked out.


    There’s dealing with shrinkage, and there’s deliberate humiliation.

  18. …Actually, the big problem here is how the hire-a-pigs that this particular K-Mart uses handled the matter. They obviously weren’t polite, and had their “Dirty Harry” caps on while interrogating the woman. Security goons are *not* cops, much less *law* enforcement. They’re simply hired thugs whose sole jobs are to protect the rights – perceived or actual – of their contract employer. *Never* trust them to be just and fair, because unlike a cop they don’t have to be. Ever.

    …What this gal should have done was, after the initial denial of the crime, refuse to answer any questions without a lawyer present. If the goons refuse to allow her to call one, demand that a *real* police officer be summoned. In about 70% of the cases, the goons will back down and simply tell the “shoplifter” to leave the store and never come back. In about half of the remaining cases, the cop will actually order the “shoplifter” released, especially when it’s obvious that a mistake has been made – i.e., one minor item “tag switched” in the middle of a big triple-digit purchase. In the remaining cases, you can’t beat the ride downtown, but only in rare cases does the issue go to court, with the store dropping the charges and/or settling to avoid the resulting lawsuit after the case gets thrown out.

    Bottom Line: Retailers need to learn a different lesson from the MafRIAA and the WiMPAAs. Instead of assuming everyone’s a criminal, treat your customers with trust and respect. Granted, there *will* be theft, but throwing the book at accidents like this one will cost you far more business than the few pennies you *think* you’re recovering.

  19. Yeah, the store saw her.

    And instead of confronting her BEFORE she checked out, they waited until she walked out.


    There’s dealing with shrinkage, and there’s deliberate humiliation.

  20. Wonder why Alton Brown changed from taping his show from the Kroeger to the Whole Foods in Atlanta? He was accused of shoplifting Krispy Kremes.


    “The donut holes.

    I’d left the donut holes on the shelf in the soft drink aisle.

    I’d opened the box, eaten two of the holes and abandoned the rest.

    Busted – like Benjamin Bunny.

    I apologized profusely for my absent mindedness and stupidity. I tried to explain that I had been deep in thought, trying to work out a food experiment that was a bit over my head.

    The officer told me not to patronize him and asked me if I could make $500 bond. I told him that I wouldn’t be able to get hold of that kind of cash until morning which seemed to amuse him a bit. As they ran a background check the store manager took the opportunity [to] lecture me on the evils of stealing. When I assured him that despite their deliciousness I had no intention of attempting to lift a two dollar box of donut holes, he just shook his head and said “It’s not like we don’t put out plenty of samples”. With that he headed off into the store, perhaps to keep an eye on that toddler on aisle 3.”

  21. In addition to not shopping there again, I would recommend she have her husband return all $800 worth of merchandise. As she’s not allowed in the store anymore, she can’t do it, but he can.
    Why allow someone who treats you so poorly make a profit?

  22. It’s entirely relevant that she spent $800. This makes it kind of unlikely she is trying to rip them off for $8 on a pair of flip flops. Accidents happen, as does shoplifting. Someone has to apply a little common sense to figure out which one is going on. This was obviously just a mistake.
    It’s really bizarre to see people defending detaining someone for an hour over a pair of flip-flops put back in the wrong box. If the store is going to react to something that harshly, they need a better system to prevent it’s happening inadvertently (e.g. a price tag on the shoes).
    Fixing your system by using fear of humiliation to train customers into paying more careful attention to what shoes go in what box, does not sound like the most effective method; and it may have some negative side effects for your business.

  23. If I’m going to get indignant over anything it’s not that she was “detained” but that she wrote this article and dedicated paragraphs to describing the genesis of her mistakes but didn’t spend one second talking about what her actual rights were.

    She could have linked to material from Flex Your Rights or another organization who advice you how to deal with being stopped and who can hold you. She could have discussed exactly why she handed her license and credit card to a private citizen such they they COULD be kept from her.

    Instead she gave no useful information to consumers about how they could deal with this problem or how she could have better dealt with it. That’s the reason to get wound up.

  24. It’s alarming how many BoingBoing readers feel that it’s okay to be convicted of a crime without a trial. As we move toward totalitarianism, please remember that you get the government that you deserve. Private security is rapidly replacing real police forces. Private prisons are replacing state and federally run ones. Pretty soon, KMart will be able to jail you. That’s not a joke or an exaggeration.

    The attitude that she got what she deserved for her mistake sounds exactly like what the defense attorney says in the rape trial. “It’s her own fault for wearing that skirt/going out at night/whatever.” Listen to what you’re saying. You’ve swallowed the Bush administration’s ethos hook, line and sinker. Shame on you for blaming the victim.

  25. “As for my dismay at the way I was treated, there was little I could do, other than take my future business to Wal-Mart or Target.”

    Well, yeah, that and complain about it in a full-length article in the largest newspaper in the United States.

  26. Her mistake was stepping back into the store. Something similar happened to me once, and I told them to call the police immediately and have me arrested.

    They didn’t, because I hadn’t stolen anything. I had carried a CD in my back pocket for 20 minutes before putting it back where I got it.

    Remember, unless they are arresting you – if they lay an hand on you it is assault, and you are allowed to defend yourself.

  27. What she should have done was NOT search for a box and just take the shoes as they were up to the front. Most shoes have a tag on the inside with the DPCI number or even on the bottom of the shoe.
    Security could not “catch” her until she actually left the premises, meaning that she “stole” the item.
    She wasn’t being observant or using common sense so now she gets to whine about her experience to the general public just because she works for the paper.
    Obviously, she has never worked in retail.

  28. Apparently Kmart sees things differently when it comes to stealing money from its customers:


    “According to the FTC’s complaint, Kmart promoted the card as equivalent to cash but failed to disclose that fees are assessed after two years of non-use, and misrepresented that the card would never expire. Kmart has agreed to disclose the fees prominently in future advertising and on the front of the gift card.

    The FTC’s complaint alleges that since 2003, Kmart did not disclose adequately that after 24 months of non-use, a $2.10 “dormancy fee” would be deducted from the card’s balance for each month of inactivity, resulting in a $50.40 reduction from the card’s value if the card was not used for 24 months. In many instances, the Commission alleges, consumers did not learn of the fee until they attempted to use their cards.”

  29. Yeah, this is most certainly not equal to civil liberties being revoked by the Bush administration. The Bush regime assumes all citizens are potential terrorists and would like us to give up our constitutional rights. (Shouldn’t be an issue if we have nothing to hide, right?)

    In this case, Kmart reacted to something that actually happened and protected itself. She was detained which was probably less than convenient, but she did actively move shoes out of a box to put hers in the box. Why not just bring them to the register as is? I doubt she was in a hurry if she had the time to rack up a $800 bill. Just because she works for a prestigious paper and buys so much at a time doesn’t mean she isn’t a shoplifter. In fact, I’m still not convinced of that.

    Lesson from this story, it takes less time to find a salesperson to help you than to try to explain why you switched the packaging of an item. And if you think Walmart and Target have different policies, you’re mistaken.

  30. K-Mart still has a store open someplace? It has been thirty years since I quit shopping there, because of lousy customer service.

  31. They had to wait until she left because until she left she hadn’t stolen anything.

    I have a hard time being sympathetic for her. They accused her of putting shoes in the cheaper box. What did she do? She put shoes in the cheaper box. Where is the problem?

    People are talking about the presumption of guilt. But let’s say that this person really was trying to get the shoes cheaper. What would a dishonest person say when confronted? Would it be any different than exactly what an honest person would say? So what is the store supposed to do?

    We know that the rich and famous never steal, right? Just ask OJ or Winona Ryder.

  32. Seems like what is good for the goose, should be good for the gander. The next time you notice a price on your receipt that doesn’t match the shelf sticker, you should be able to exit the store and then call the police to complain about being cheated. All retail stores make those mistakes, some more than others, and when you call it to their attention they act like it’s no big deal.

    KMart will get their reward. I’m sure that there are a lot of people who will stop shopping there because of this. They could have handled this situation more diplomatically.

  33. I used to work in AP (Asset Protection, also called Loss Prevention, also called Security) at my University Bookstore while I was a student there. A lot of the comments here are off-base.

    1. Yes, the store can charge you. In California it’s between $50 and $500. If you want to contest the charge, then that’s fine. You go to court, have a trial or whatever, and if you’re convicted you still get charged the 50 to 500 plus whatever penalties are mandated by law.

    1.1 The amount is decided by the security guard. If the item was a lot the fine is higher. If you look sincerely sorry and embarrassed you’ll likely be charged the minimum.

    2. I’m not a goon. No one I worked with was a goon. I made $7.25 an hour and always tried to be honest, reasonable and upright, as I assume 95% of others that work this position do.

    3. I’m human, and I made a few mistakes. Sorry, it happens. I really, really thought I saw you pick up that CD and put it into your bag. I’ve caught hundreds of people doing it and only made a mistake three or four times. I apologized and let you go as soon as possible. Thanks for being a total fucking asshat to me.

    4. This case was a 1 in 1,000 situation. I would have stopped this lady too, thought I would have let her go without the fine. Everyone lies. I got really good at these interrogations. Everyone lies in the beginning, but most people crack after a few minutes. It’s kind of funny sitting there and talking to some and know they’re lying, but it makes you jaded.

    5. Most stores have this policy: you have to see the person pick the item up off the shelf so you know it’s not theirs, have complete visual contact (through a camera works) after that to make sure they don’t set the item down, and only stop them after they leave the store so you know they don’t mean to pay for it. Note: all this happened in this lady’s case.

    6. At my store we also had to get a confession out of the person. If they wouldn’t admit to it and it was a big deal (a lot of stuff), we call the police and it goes to the official court system. Otherwise we’d just let them go.

    7. It’s hard (impossible) to prove intent unless you wait till the person leaves the store. Therefore, you wait till the person leaves the store before stopping them.

    8. Before you get totally fucking hysterical about the Nazi guards, please remember that the security team at any store has probably (1) spotted some serious criminals and taken a lot of effort to get the police on them (I ran 2 miles after some guy on a bike who was suspected of rape); (2) got punched, pushed, hit, spit on by crazies so that the crazies can’t bother you, the shopper; (3) will help you get out of the store in a fire, earthquake or other emergency, and be the last ones to leave.

    Most people are just trying to do their job, earn a buck and go home to their friends and family. No need to get all self-righteous on them

  34. If you’re going to dump all the shoes into one giant pile, does it make more sense to tag the shoes or the boxes.

    Come to think of it, I’ve never seen a store that tags the box instead of the shoe. Maybe they do things different in America?

  35. I am a Loss Prevention Coach for Kmart in a different state, however the policy is the same for all Kmarts & Sears stores for that matter as the training certification is the same for both.

    First of all if this actually happened they way it is written then company policy was not followed and for corrective action to occur all she would have to do is the contact the District Loss Prevention Coach. Ticketing Switching is handled in a total different manner than she described.

    And the person that said you don’t have to stop. That is actually true, you don’t have to stop, all Loss Prevention has to do is notify law enforcement of your crime, provided the video and you vechile information (trust me they have it) and sign a statement then a warrant is issued for your arrest.

    And by the way I am not a rent a pig. I have a BA in Criminal Justice and well as a BS in Business Mgt so Loss Prevention. I work to protect the property of the store. If you dont like loss prevention then don’t shop at Kmart, Walmart,Sears, Target, Old Navy, Lowes, Home Depot, Toys R Us, A&F, the list goes on and on.

  36. kmart is one of the most idiotic stores in my town, its nothing compared to bigger more known stores such as walmart. yet they have the most strict security system? just today i was followed by an undercover security officer and was followed over 30min in the store and had all of security and employees waiting for me at the exit, since i obviously didn’t have anything, they let me go. but it still wasn’t worth having someone follow you crawling on the floors to catch you doing something because you “look” suspicious..

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