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"Some Of These Stores Have Facial Recognition": This Lawyer's PSA Is Going Viral On TikTok

In the last couple of years, retailers have complained that a spike in theft (known as "shrink" in the biz) is cutting into their profits. Theft has also been blamed for store closures — even though that's not really the whole story as factors like remote work and online shopping have really changed the retail game.

shop with store closing signs in the windows
Wendellandcarolyn / Getty Images/iStockphoto

According to 29-year-old Florida-based public defender Alexa Rimmer, some stores are turning to facial recognition to crack down on sticky-fingered shoppers. In a TikTok that's been viewed over 1.6 million times, she shared how she's been seeing these cases come across her desk, sometimes years after the alleged offense.

selfie of Alexa wearing a blazer in her car
Alexa Rimmer

In the video, Alexa explains, "I'm not endorsing or condoning any criminal behavior, but I'm just here to tell you that some of these stores have facial recognition technology. So I've been getting cases recently where some of my clients have had sticky fingers and no one stops them. No one questions them. They walk on out of the store."

"The cameras at some of these stores have identified them with their software, and then a warrant goes out and they don't get arrested on it. Months or sometimes years later — I just got a case that's from 2020. So this person has gone three years without knowing that they were about to get hit with a felony for theft."

@lilmsbinch / Via

And in the comments, even law-abiding citizens felt nervous as a result of this information. One commenter wrote, "I don't even do this but I'm still convinced that I am about to be arrested."

"I don't even do this but I'm still convinced that I am about to be arrested"
@lilmsbinch / Via

Others wondered if self-checkout oopsies count, because who hasn't accidentally rung up the wrong number of bananas?

what if it's an accident and I just forgot to scan
@lilmsbinch / Via

And retail workers shared how the stores they've worked for have handled theft in their experience. One person said that their store would typically wait until the theft reached a certain dollar amount before prosecuting.

I worked retail a lot of them wait until they document over $1000 for the big charge
@lilmsbinch / Via

And others shared that retailers might also be able to access information about you from your phone, which adds a whole new layer of unsettling to the mix.

My old job used NoMi and not only can it provide very accurate facial recognition but it pulls info off your phone as well
@lilmsbinch / Via

In a follow-up video, Alexa said it was a case involving Lowe's, wherein the store pursued charges years after the alleged incident, that had inspired her to post about it to TikTok. Lowe's did not respond to a request for comment.

Currently, New York City is the only municipality in the US where retailers are required to post a sign notifying customers that they're using facial recognition technology. And FaceFirst, one of the leading companies providing this tech, doesn't list its clients publicly, making it hard to know which companies are using it. So, to be on the safe side, you should probably just assume you're being monitored and tracked in some way any time you set foot in a store.

surveillance camera mounted outside of a store
Witsawat Sananrum / Getty Images

Alexa told BuzzFeed that she's been practicing law for four years and loves being a public defender. "I wanted to pursue public defense because I strongly believe in the Constitutional right to counsel. I have actually branched out to different areas of law in my career, but I didn't feel the same fulfillment as I do now. I find my job very rewarding!"

desk decorated with the scales of justice and a gavel
Nanostockk / Getty Images

And she shared some misconceptions people have about shoplifting. "People often think if no one stops you after walking out of the store, then you are home free. On the other hand, people will also think that if the store's loss prevention officer stops you and recovers the items that there is not any more criminal liability. I see cases often where the items allegedly taken were returned to the store and the store will still seek prosecution against these individuals."

shoplifting man hiding an item in his jacket
Andreypopov / Getty Images

Alexa also shared what kinds of punishments people face in her state following a shoplifting conviction. "In Florida, there are different theft statutes where the possible maximum sentence for a petit theft charge can vary from 60 days in jail for a misdemeanor to up to five years for a felony charge."

person in a jail cell
Twenty47studio / Getty Images

"Those with a more extensive criminal background are more likely to face jail or prison time, whereas first-time offenders can be offered a diversion program where they are able to keep their record clear if they successfully complete a theft related class and community service. Probation is a common sentence, often including a requirement to pay back the value of the items taken in restitution payments paid back to the store the items were alleged to be taken from."

And she has some tips for anyone who's reading this: "I would highly recommend people to be familiar with their state's statutes as they can drastically vary. I also recommend anytime someone may be facing legal trouble to remain silent and request a lawyer. Be polite but firm in your statements to the police. No one has ever talked their way out of being arrested! Know your rights so you can help your attorney defend you!"

lawyer and client shaking hands
Nanostockk / Getty Images

Follow Alexa on TikTok.

What do you think about this story? Have you seen anything like this while working in retail or shopping in stores? Tell me about it in the comments.