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Toys “R” Us sells toy guns, police car models, and fake badges, but the chain’s traffic in make-believe apparently extends to real-life law as well. More than a year after retrieving her son from the back office of a San Francisco Toys “R” Us store—after a security guard caught him carrying around a Yak Bak toy in his pocket—Margaret Chant received a letter containing a fake civil complaint. “You may stop this suit from being filed by making payment according to the terms of the demand letter enclosed,” it warned. The demand letter asked for $365 in civil damages. Unable to come up with the money, Chant contacted Berkeley, Calif., attorney Larry Hildes.

“The first word out of my mouth was ‘scam,'” Hildes says. He says the letter, sent by Florida attorney James R. Palmer, who represented Loss Prevention Specialists (LPS), a Florida collections firm contracted by Toys “R” Us, contained several improprieties. The most obvious: California law allows retailers to collect damages only if a person leaves the premises with merchandise.

So why did Chant receive a letter? “We’re under contract to send a letter to everyone we get a report on,” says LPS president Read Hayes. Rebecca Caruso, a Toys “R” Us spokeswoman, claims that the chain has a right to seek such damages.

Hildes has filed a lawsuit against LPS, Palmer, and Toys “R” Us. “[LPS] has no ability to bring lawsuits except in Florida,” says Hildes. “Fifty percent of the people who get these letters pay, so [LPS is] just playing the percentages.”

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is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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