“Rip-offs,” defined as financial exploitation, are as prevalent today as in the 1970s and ’80s. They exist in two major forms: shoplifting merchandise or abusing a seller’s “guarantee program” by returning goods for refunds on heavily worn products used over many years or for products purchased through third parties, such as yard sales.

The gall of it. Imagine returning a pair of years-old slippers to L.L. Bean for a refund when the returnee never bought them there. In law, that’s known as “unjust enrichment.”

When I donned a black robe in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, I was first handed a list of “indicated fines” (littering and shoplifting, $25; OUI, $300; passing stopped school buses with red lights flashing, $50, etc.) meant to achieve statewide uniformity of sentences in district courts. It’s likely still around with amended amounts touting uniformity over deterrence.

I tried the list. It didn’t work. Twenty-five-dollar fines saw two dozen shoplifting cases monthly at court. The deterrent effect of law was absent. Raising the fine to $75 resulted in no such “rip-offs” for six months.

Drawn to a conclusion, shoplifting reduces inventories; owners pay the price of theft. In L.L. Bean’s instance, the cost of abuse and fraudulent returns had become so great that it eclipsed total annual revenue from sales of the company’s flagship Bean boots.

L.L. Bean’s new policy is most reasonable compared to business industry; still, complaining folk have hands out, palms up.

John Benoit


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