That Viral Sign in San Francisco About Stealing Items Up to $950 Is Completely Fake

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Have you seen photos on social media of a street sign that reads, “Notice, Stolen goods must remain under $950″? The photos were taken in San Francisco and appear to be referring to a right-wing disinformation campaign that claims theft has been legalized in California. But the signs weren’t put there by any government entity. They’re a prank.

When the photos first surfaced on X over the weekend, many people speculated the images may have been photoshopped or created with AI technology in some way. One of the photos even received a Community Note submitted by users that claimed as much. But that’s not true.

They’re photos of a “real” sign in the sense that they weren’t created using programs like OpenAI or Photoshop. The sign was captured from multiple angles, as you can see above, helping prove that this sign was actually placed there in front of the Louis Vuitton store.

And while they look professionally done, the signs had subtle clues indicating they weren’t real (including screws that look different from those used by the city), which proves they were installed by anonymous pranksters. The San Francisco Department of Public Works and the Office of the City Administrator confirmed to Gizmodo on Monday by email that the sign “was not City sanctioned and not posted by the City.”

What’s the idea behind the sign? It’s most likely a reference to the fact that the state of California raised the threshold for when shoplifting goes from a misdemeanor to a felony back in 2014. The threshold in California is $950, which some people think is too high. Fox News has done several segments on the topic, claiming that California has “legalized” shoplifting, which is complete nonsense. The idea is fueled by cellphone videos aired by conservative media that give viewers the impression that theft is non-stop in the state.

The problem, of course, is that many other states—including those with Republican governors and legislatures—have much higher thresholds for when shoplifting becomes a felony. In fact, as former Washington Post criminal justice reporter Radley Balko wrote in 2023, a whopping 34 states have a higher threshold than California. That includes Republican-run states like Texas ($2,500) and South Carolina ($2,000). Needless to say, nobody is claiming that Texas and South Carolina have legalized theft.

Professional-looking signs clearly made by pranksters have been popping up in San Francisco for years. There was the sign near OpenAI’s headquarters a few months ago that warned all activities were being monitored by security cameras and used for training AI, others declaring a “no-tech zone” back in 2015 aimed at tourists, and the one that read “we regret this bike lane” in 2023.

Given the number of fake official-looking signs that have sprung up in San Francisco over the past decade, it seems unlikely we’ll ever learn who was behind the “stolen goods” sign that’s been going viral in recent days. All we can say for sure is that it’s not a real sign put out by the city. And despite what you might see on Fox News or X, retail stores in California aren’t really a lawless Mad Max hellscape. You have to drive the freeways in L.A. to experience that.

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