WILMINGTON -- This time of year stores are not only ready for holiday shoppers -- but shoplifters too. Some new laws passed in December give much stricter punishment to people who use the five finger discount. Employees at Sweetwater Surf Shop in Wrightsville Beach lose merchandise and money to shop lifters more often than they would like. Sweetwater employee Ashley Martin said, "In most cases we usually don't find people trying to remove the security tags. It's mostly at the end of the night when we're straightening up we'll find the security tags in various places around the store." New laws in North Carolina now give stricter punishment for a number of shop lifting crimes including taking security tags off merchandise. Defense attorney Thom Goolsby said, "They actually will stop people who have the pliers and wrenches and devices for removing those, now if you do that it's a class H felony." Stealing more than $200 worth of merchandise could also result in felony charges. The same goes for altering barcodes on price tags to make the product cheaper. "Typically what folks do is they will come in and peel one off and stick another one on and they come up with a fake one and put it on a piece of merchandise," Goolsby said. These crimes used to be misdemeanors, which rarely carried jail time. Now, an offender could be sentenced to up to a year. "I'm afraid that most of the time when I do represent people they don't understand the seriousness of what they are getting themselves into," Goolsby said. "With a felony record, you can't vote, you can't get a firearm, you'll have a lot of your citizens rights taken from you." Surprisingly enough these new laws also addressed theft of baby formula. People who steal more than $100 worth will also be charged with felonies. According to attorneys some people steal infant formula to quickly resell on the streets for drug money.
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