If you have ever walked into a retail store you have seen, and most likely used, a self-checkout register. Self-checkout registers are convenient and efficient, however, they have also made it easier in recent years for customers to commit an offense commonly referred to as “price tag switching.” While switching price tags is not limited to self-checkout registers, the self-serve system has made it easier for customers to alter or tamper with price tags in an attempt to fraudulently pay less money for an item. Here’s a look at price tag switching charges in Fort Worth and Texas, including the crime, the consequences and real-life examples of price switching.
What is Price Tag Switching?
Price tag switching — formally known as the fraudulent destruction, removal, or concealment of writing — occurs when an individual attempts to purchase an item at a discounted price, or return an item for more money than it is worth, by tampering with the price tag. The offense of fraudulent destruction, removal, or concealment of writing is codified under 32.47 of the Texas Penal Code. This statute makes it illegal for a customer to destroy, remove, conceal, alter, substitute, or otherwise impair the verity, legibility, or availability of a writing, other than a governmental record.
For purposes of this offense “writing” includes:
- printing or any other method of recording information;
- money, coins, tokens, stamps, seals, credit cards, badges, trademarks;
- symbols of value, right, privilege, or identification; and
- universal product codes, labels, price tags, or markings on goods.
In other words, if you are accused of switching price tags in Texas, you will be charged with the offense of “fraudulent destruction, removal or concealment of writing.” That’s just a very formal, legal way of referring to price tag switching charges in Fort Worth.
Fraudulent Destruction, Removal, or Concealment of Writing
Fraudulent destruction, removal, or concealment of writing is a crime that is defined by the Texas Penal Code. A person commits this offense if they:
- Intentionally destroy, remove, conceal, alter, or falsify any writing;
- Without the owner’s consent;
- With the intent to defraud or harm another person.
A “writing” can include any type of record or document, including computer files and other electronic records. The writing must also be one that is required by law to be kept or produced. This can include financial records, legal documents, contracts, and other similar items.
Penalties for Switching Price Tags in Texas Standardized in 2019
In the eyes of lawmakers, switching price tags is equivalent to shoplifting or taking money from the register – but that wasn’t always the case. On Sept. 1, 2019, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 427, making the punishment for price tag switching the same as shoplifting or property theft. Prior to House Bill 427, the punishment for price tag switching was a Class A misdemeanor. The value of the item a customer tampered with was not taken into account nor was the loss to the business owner. Now, under the new law, the punishment is determined by the disparity between the price marked and the price paid for an item. Although unlikely, a defendant could potentially face up to 99 years in prison for fraudulently underpaying for an item or items.
What is the Punishment for Price Tag Switching?
While 99-year-long prison sentences for price tag switching are few and far between, the possibility remains. The punishment for price tag switching varies drastically, from a Class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony, depending on the difference between the price marked and the price paid. A defendant faces a:
- Class C misdemeanor if the difference between the price marked and the price paid is less than $100. A class C misdemeanor conviction carries a punishment of no more than a $500 fine.
- Class B misdemeanor if the difference between the price marked and the price paid is between $100 and $750. A class B misdemeanor conviction carries a punishment of no more than 180 days in jail, a fine not exceeding $2,000, or both.
- Class A misdemeanor if the difference between the price marked and the price paid is between $750 and $2,500. A class A misdemeanor conviction carries a punishment of no more than 1 year in jail, a fine not exceeding $4,000, or both.
- State jail felony if the difference between the price marked and the price paid is between $2,500 and $30,000. A state jail felony is punishable by 180 days to 2 years in state jail, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
- Third-degree felony if the difference between the price marked and the price paid is between $30,000 and $150,000. A third-degree felony is punishable by 2-10 years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both.
- Second-degree felony if the difference between the price marked and the price paid is between $150,000 and $300,000. A second-degree felony is punishable by 2-20 years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both.
- First-degree felony if the difference between the price marked and the price paid exceeds $300,000. A first-degree felony is punishable by 5-99 years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both.
Real Examples of Price Tag Swapping in Texas
Defendants have made headline news, nationwide, for switching out price tags to fraudulently save money. Here’s a look at some real examples of price tag switching charges in Texas:
- In 2019, Denton police arrested four women for swapping price tags on items at a local Wal-Mart. The women allegedly switched the price tags in an attempt to get away with roughly $125 worth of Wal-Mart inventory.
- In 2019, a man in San Antonio was arrested for switching the price tags on 35 high-end bottles of wine at numerous H-E-B locations. The full price of the wine was valued at $4,036, but the defendant only paid $170.
- On December 23, a 38-year-old man was accused of price tag switching in Wal-Mart, when confronted by Sulphur Springs Police Department, the defendant admitted to committing the crime. He was arrested and charged with a Class A misdemeanor charge of fraudulent destruction, removal, or concealment of writing. The defendant had his bond set at $2,000.
- In 2018, a man was arrested and charged in Laredo, Texas for price tag switching at The Outlet Shoppes. Video surveillance showed the defendant changing the price tag on an item of clothing at the Tommy Hilfiger store and later attempting to pay for the item.
- In 2015, a male and female duo were arrested in Bryan, Texas for price tag switching. The duo entered a Wal-Mart, took a $3.92 price tag off of a girl’s tank top and placed it on an inflatable pool that was valued at $48. Both defendants faced a class A misdemeanor charge of fraudulent destruction, removal or concealment of writing and bail set at $4,000.
Facing Price Tag Switching Charges in Fort Worth? We Can Help.
When facing a fraudulent destruction, removal, or concealment of writing offense, it’s crucial to have a tenacious and skilled defense attorney representing you. Experience matters. Price tag tampering charges come with negative repercussions and the possibility of steep prison time. An experienced criminal defense attorney will seek an outcome that does not result in a conviction or that results in being charged with a lesser offense.
The lawyers at Varghese Summersett understand the importance of keeping a charge of fraudulent destruction, removal, or concealment of writing off an individual’s criminal record and we will strive to do just that. We have vast experience handling all types of theft accusations and have a record of exceptional results. Call today for a free consultation with an experienced Fort Worth criminal defense attorney.