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We usually think of criminal charges and our credit score as two separate issues. But when a store is coming after you over a shoplifting incident, you might be worried that one indiscretion could wind up on your criminal and financial record.
Here's what you need to know about the affect a shoplifting charge could have on your credit score.
Most crimes won't affect your credit score. Your credit report is a record of your financial history, including adverse judgments against you for late or unpaid debts. As for your criminal record, that only includes convictions on criminal charges.
Shoplifting charges can represent an interesting intersection of the two because stores will often send shoplifters a civil demand letter, asking them to reimburse the store or pay a civil fine to the store on top of a criminal fine associated with the conviction. These letters often threaten legal action if the accused or convicted shoplifter doesn't pay, and people worry that not paying the civil penalty could affect their credit.
But most of the time, civil demand letters regarding shoplifting are all bark and no bite. The majority of civil demand letters aren't enforceable without a court judgment. And because the amount of most shoplifting claims is lower than the cost of taking the case to court, most businesses don't follow through with threats of litigation.
While criminal charges can be made public and convictions entered onto your criminal record, civil demand letters are not public record, and there is no real way for them to end up on your credit report. Although failing to pay all fines and restitution and follow orders from a criminal court could lead to further sanctions (and possibly jail time), ignoring a civil demand letter won't normally lead to any repercussions.
Most people accused of shoplifting are better off using the money they would've spent on the civil demand for an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help them fight the charge, assist with plea bargaining, or get their criminal record expunged.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.