Walmart Apologizes For Wrongly Accusing Smyrna Mother
By Jennifer Kraus Consumer Investigator
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Walmart is now apologizing to a Smyrna woman. The world's biggest retailer wrongly accused her of committing a crime not once, but twice. So she turned to NewsChannel 5 Investigates for help. And not only did we get to the bottom of the story and help the woman clear her name, but we also discovered that Walmart really messed up.
Martha Quinn said she's no thief. Yet twice now this mother of four from Smyrna has been accused of shoplifting by the world's largest retailer.
Quinn told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, "I supposedly stole items from a Walmart in Texas on two occasions."
But Quinn said she hasn't been to Texas in years and never to a Walmart there.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Quinn, "They had the wrong person?"
And, it turns out, Walmart should have known that. Yet the company and Palmer Reifler & Associates, a Florida-based law firm hired by the discount chain, went after Quinn anyway, sending her letters demanding that she pay hundreds of dollars in what's known as civil recovery fees, money retailers can demand from shoplifters to cover their losses.
Quinn said she felt threatened just by the tone of the letters.
"It was making me think that if I didn't pay this, I was going to be looking at other charges. And, I have four children that I cannot be separated from. And, the fact that this is not me. It just was really really scary," she recalled.
But, even worse, she said, was being accused of something she didn't do, the first time in 2009, and then again last month.
"When you're asked, 'Where were you on the night of the 18th,' you know, if anybody's asked, you kind of freeze up and you're like, 'Oh, where was I? Where was I? I know I wasn't there. But, where was I?'"
Quinn said she contacted the law firm both times and told them they had the wrong person.
But, when NewsChannel 5 first contacted Walmart, the company was still insisting that Quinn was the woman they'd caught shoplifting, when in reality, we found, she wasn't.
We discovered that Walmart had actually busted a woman from Texas who lives just miles from one of the stores. So what did Walmart do? The company then insisted that the other woman had identified herself as Quinn she was caught.
But, NewsChannel 5 Investigates tracked down that other woman, Pearl Whitlock Williams, and she insisted she'd never heard of Quinn and never claimed to be anyone other than herself. She told us she'd given Walmart her own name and her own address.
"Cause when they take you to jail, they're obviously going to find out," Williams explained.
And police records, we found, back up her story. A citation issued by police in Conroe, Texas cites Williams and the information on the ticket is Williams. There's nothing on the citation pertaining to Martha Quinn.
Walmart then insisted that Williams had given them Quinn's social security number. But, that we found was wrong too. Finally, Walmart admitted they'd had Williams' Social Security number in their files all along, leading Martha Quinn to ask, "How could they know, try to cover up and continue to accuse without any proof that it was me?"
Walmart now said what happened was "a terrible mistake" and the company wishes "it never had happened." The company "regrets the error and is taking steps to resolve the issue."
Martha Quinn said she wishes Walmart would have taken steps before now.
"They should have researched and made sure that they were going after the correct person. It would have saved me three years of grief."
Now, we have been going back and forth with Walmart for nearly three weeks. Walmart finally called Quinn two days ago, on Tuesday, and apologized to her. Then late Wednesday afternoon, Walmart called her again and offered her a $500 gift card.
As far as this mix-up, Walmart now is blaming it on a data entry mistake in their system. They said they're not exactly sure when or how it happened, but they said they are continuing to review the case and will make changes if necessary to prevent this from happening again.