What Happens if I Remove a Security Tag From Merchandise?

You’ve just bought a new jacket. You get home, excited to show your friends and family your recent purchase. As you turn around, someone points out that the security tag is still on the garment. If you actually bought the item, and you remove the tag (though this can be difficult without the right tools), you might get ink on your clothes or the device might emit a shrieking noise, but you wouldn’t face any legal sanctions.

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However, if you did not actually purchase the jacket, or you are still at the store and take off the security tag, you’re committing an offense. In Iowa, this type of conduct is referred to as the removal of a theft detection device.

How Is Removal of a Theft Detection Device Defined?

The law concerning this offense specifically states that a person is prohibited from removing a theft detection device with the intent to steal the merchandise it’s attached to. Additionally, the person doing the removing must not have had permission from the merchant to do so.

The statute concerning this offense defines a theft detection device as an electronic or other instrument attached to merchandise that sets off an alarm system.

What this law means is if you’re a store employee taking off a security tag as part of your job, you’re not violating the law. However, if you don’t work for the store and you just really want the jacket you saw, removing the device to leave the shop undetected with the garment is illegal.

Depending on the value of the jacket, the classification of charge you face is as follows:

  • Simple misdemeanor: For items worth $300 or less. A conviction carries a fine between $65 and $625. Additionally, the judge may impose a jail term of 30 days.
  • Serious misdemeanor: For merchandise valued at more than $300. The jail term for a conviction is up to 1 year. The penalties may also include a fine between $315 and $1,875.

If you take the security tag off the jacket and leave the store with it, on top of being charged with removal of the device, you could also be prosecuted for theft. The charges for this offense range from a simple misdemeanor to a class “C” felony. Again, the level depends on the value of the stolen item.

What Other Acts Are Prohibited by the Law?

Removing a theft detection device isn’t the only type of conduct the statute defines as illegal.

You could be charged under this law if you:

  • Make, sell, distribute, or attempt to make, sell, or distribute a theft detection shielding device (an object that would prevent a theft alarm from detecting a security tag); or
  • Have a tool in your possession that can be used to remove a theft detection device

Both of the offenses listed above are serious misdemeanors and could result in jail time of up to 1 year and a fine of up to $1,875.

Do you need aggressive legal representation to fight criminal accusations made against you in Iowa City? Call Keegan, Tindal & Jaeger at (319) 499-5524 or contact us online to get started with a free consultation.