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Is It Stealing if I ‘Paid’ for the Items?

You might know that if you go to a store and take an item without paying for it, you could be breaking the law. If the police arrest you, you could be charged with, and possibly convicted of, theft of property. But what if you paid for the item? Is that still theft? That depends on the specific circumstances.

If you went to the store, picked an item off the shelf, took it to the cash register, and paid for it, you're fine. You haven't violated the law.

However, there is a way in which it could appear that you've paid the actual price for the item, but you really haven't. In that scenario, that's theft.

Altering the Barcode of an Item

Let's explain what we mean about making it appear that you've actually paid for an item when you haven't. Say you have at home a machine that can print barcodes that look like the ones affixed to merchandise in a store. You head to that establishment and find certain high-priced items you want to buy.

You also look around the store for lower-priced items and take photos of the barcodes. Back at home, you print out labels for the cheaper merchandise. You return to the store and affix your homemade barcode to the more expensive items.

With the now-altered packaging, you head to the checkout counter. Because of the barcode you made, the $500 item you’re buying now rings up for $25. Although you "paid" for the item, it wasn't for the actual value. In this scenario, you have committed theft.

Depending on the value of the item you stole, you could face up to 60 years in prison and up to $50,000 in fines.

Criminal Simulation

Let's say you weren't the person who physically went to the store and "bought" the item with the altered packaging; you just made the barcode. Even in that situation, you could be charged with a theft crime called criminal simulation.

There are various elements that define the conduct considered unlawful under this statute.

For instance, it is illegal to knowingly:

  • Make something appear to be worth more than it really is
  • Possess an item that has been altered to seem more valuable with the intent to sell the item
  • Authenticate or certify an object as genuine knowing that it's not

The element of this offense that would apply to the hypothetical example mentioned earlier is knowingly possessing a device or apparatus that can be used to further the commission of theft through fraud. Therefore, being in possession of the barcode printer is illegal and can get you in trouble with the law if your friend goes out and buys expensive items at cheaper prices.

Criminal simulation is punished like a theft crime would be, which means the penalties you face depend on the value of the stolen merchandise. However, this offense cannot be charged lower than a Class E felony. Therefore, if you're convicted, at minimum, you could be looking at a prison sentence between 1 and 6 years and a fine of up to $3,000.

If you've been charged with a theft or fraud crime in Knoxville, contact Eldridge & Blakney by calling us at (865) 999-0350 or contacting us online. Backed by over 90 years of combined legal experience, we know what it takes to provide effective counsel in even the toughest cases.