Created: November 25, 2019 10:56 AM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Are some stores protecting their merchandise while violating your civil rights?
Pat Taney was asked to look into it for this week's Good Question report.
"Receipt checking: legal or illegal?" viewer David Katerle asked after seeing a report that questions whether stores have the right to demand to see your receipt after checkout.
It's something most of us do without thinking but are you legally obligated to do it? We asked legal expert Bob Brenna, a partner at Brenna Boyce Law Firm.
"I have spent my entire career protecting civil liberties and privacy," he said. "It's hard to imagine an argument that a merchant can stay in business without the ability to protect their own merchandise."
In New York state, businesses are protected by the law.
"There is a statute in New York state that specifically gives a merchant the ability to reasonably investigate if they think something is being stolen from them," Brenna said.
But what if you're not under suspicion for stealing? In Brenna's opinion, businesses should still be allowed to ask.
"I don't know, other than increase horrific surveillance and facial recognition, an alternative to the right to say may I please see your receipt."
The practice is being challenged in Canada. According to CBC News, the Canadian Civil Liberties Union, which is similar to the American Civil Liberties Union, is investigating whether these security checks violate civil liberties. The argument? Many customers feel receipt checks are less of a request and more of a demand.
We reached out to the ACLU, and they did not know about any similar investigation in the U.S.
Brenna says at this point, he doesn't expect that to change.
"I would not take a case trying to assert that someone does not have the right to prove you've paid for an item."
Walmart is a store where receipt checks often happen, especially for pricey items.
"Like many retailers, we have theft-deterrent measures in place which ensure the items our customers want are available and help in keeping prices low," Walmart spokesperson Casey Staheli said. "We value customer feedback, and receipt checks are just another example of us investing in programs to improve the overall shopping experience."
Some stores are more open about the practice than others. At Costco, if you look at the fine print in your membership, it informs you that receipt checks upon exit are part of the membership.
As for the future, many legal experts say don't be surprised if receipt checks increase as more stores install self-checkout kiosks.
If you have a question, email GoodQuestion@whec.com.
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