Reporting Sibila Vargas
LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Do you ever feel like you’re being watched while trying on clothes in a store dressing room? If you shop at some of the country’s biggest retail stores, you may be shocked by what CBS2’s Sibila Vargas saw during our hidden camera investigation.
Laura from Tujunga is a devoted Macy’s customer who agreed to let us record her and her daughter with hidden cameras while shopping at Macy’s in Burbank.
She was unaware that anyone could peer in as she disrobed in a Macy’s changing stall until we pointed out what we could see right through the inward-facing slats in the doors.
“So, I can walk by anybody else’s door? So, anybody walking by could actually see in? Oh, that’s awful. That’s awful,” she said. “Right, like shutters and those are backward shutters. If I can see those clothes, I can probably see you. It’s just not right.”
“I don’t really think that they should have doors like these,” her daughter Ashlyn added.
We found dressing room doors like these even in the children’s section, and it wasn’t just in Burbank.
We went shopping with hidden cameras at Macy’s stores in North Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Glendale, Canoga Park and Culver City and discovered that you could see clearly into the dressing rooms there as well.
But it’s not just Macy’s. We caught the same thing at Saks Fifth Avenue and the Ann Taylor Loft as well. We saw it at stores on the Westside, in the South Bay, Orange County, the San Gabriel Valley and more.
When you’re trying on clothes, don’t just assume that because you can’t see out through the slats of the doors that the person on the outside can’t see you changing. The direction of the slats provides a clear view for predators with cameras, or employees to peer in.
“That’s not legal, is it?” Laura asked following our investigation.
A former Macy’s employee with 20 years experience in department store loss prevention, who spoke with us on the condition of anonymity, says this is done intentionally, without customers knowing. And he says it’s wrong.
“I was shown the fitting room by another detective who was a man,” he tells us. “In the women’s department of the store, the slats or louvers of the doors were not pointed down, but they were pointed up where from the outside. When the door is closed, you can see in, and pretty plainly see in.”
The whistleblower says he was told dressing room doors were intentionally hung in a way that allowed employees to monitor customers to prevent shoplifting.
While Macy’s now chalks it up to different interior designs at stores acquired over the years, it originally issued the following statement to our sister station in Florida:
“Retailers work hard to strike a balance between preserving the privacy of customers, providing customer service, maintaining customer safety in fitting rooms, and deterring the theft of merchandise.”
We showed our findings to Peter Eliasberg with the ACLU in Southern California.
“If they got down to naked or got down to their underwear, you would pretty clearly be able to see what was going on,” he said.
Eliasberg says that while everyone’s level of privacy is different, there are many people who treat bodily integrity seriously and would be disturbed by the video we showed him.
“Merely to say we have an interest in preventing theft isn’t alone enough in my mind to say, ‘OK, and therefore your privacy rights are just thrown out the window.’”
He says California law is clear: anyone who looks through a hole or opening of a changing room or fitting room – which the occupant has a reasonable expectation of privacy – with the intent to invade privacy is breaking the law.
“I certainly would be interested in telling Macys that ‘you’re playing with fire and arguably violating a criminal statute,’” he said.
As for Laura, she’ll think twice the next time she steps inside any dressing room.
“I don’t think I’ll try on anything again, honestly. I’ll look for that now, for sure! I’ll buy things, take them home, try them on and take them back.”