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VERIFY: Can you legally refuse to show your receipt if asked when you leave the store?

It's a question you might think when you're out shopping. Can you just pass by the line of people getting their receipt checked? We set out to VERIFY.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. —

It's something most people comply with, but maybe you've seen someone (or you've done it yourself) get into an argument about whether they really do have to show their receipt on their way out the store. 

Our VERIFY team met with a criminal law expert at Thomas M. Cooley Law School to help settle this once and for all.

“In public stores, as a general rule, you can refuse to show your receipt,” said Tonya Krause-Phelan, a criminal law professor.

But there’s a flipside to that rule. 

“The flipside is if the store has reason to believe that you may have stolen something, or are about to steal something, they actually can detain you until law enforcement arrives,” Krause-Phelan said. 

This is what’s called the Shopkeepers Privilege, which is a really old rule most states have adopted into law, including Michigan. 

“The shopkeeper, if they were suspicious to begin with, are going to become even more suspicious if you don't stop and show the receipt," Krause-Phelan said. "But when we're talking about a reasonable suspicion of shoplifting, or even probable cause, the store has to have facts.”

Facts, meaning a loss prevention officer might think you switched a price tag, maybe saw you hide a small item in a larger one, or think they saw you put something in your pocket.

“They'd have to have some other fact that they saw in addition to you not showing your receipt that would allow them to say, 'hey we think they're actually shoplifting,' and justify detaining you,” Krause-Phelan said.

Basically, the store does have the legal right to ask, but refusing to show your receipt alone is not enough to detain you. 

It’s also important to note this applies to places where you do not have a membership. 

“Stores where there is a club membership, and you sign some paperwork as part of that membership, often times that paperwork has a provision in there that you agree to show your receipt every time you exit the store,” Krause-Phelan said. 

So we can VERIFY: You can legally refuse to show your receipt when you leave stores where you have not signed a membership.

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