The advice here has generally been to ignore these letters, especially if there was no invlvement by law enforcement. Generally, these letters make a reference to the statute which gives the right to recover damages by the store. Suggest that you go to the local law library and look up the section. Ask the reference clerk to show you hoe=w to find and read court decisions,if any , about the statutes.
The above is not intended as legal advice. The response does not constitute the creation of an attorney client relationship as this forum does not provide for a confidential communication.
My advice to clients is to ignore these letters. They will continue for a few months, and, if they have a phone number for you, I have had clients receive calls about the demand for money; ignore the calls as well. They will stop on their own when they are satisfied that you are not going to voluntarily send them money and move on to the next victim. Most of these letters are sent out by a small number of "loss prevention" law firms. They crank out letters and hope for money in the mail. You are not required by any law to pay in response to the civil demand letters. The retailer is required to go through this procedure before they are permitted to file a civil lawsuit. There is essentially no chance that a civil lawsuit would be filed against you, a minor, for $30 worth of merchandise; it is not economically worthwhile for the store or for any lawyer to handle such a suit. The civil demand letter is NOT related to a criminal charge of Retail Theft. You could receive such a charge by mail from a magistrate's office, but it sounds like you have lucked-out on that one if you haven't gotten it yet. If you do get any mail from a magistrate's offices pay very close attention to that. The letters from the lawyer you can ignore. Good luck.
it probably will have no bearing on whether or not they will file criminal charges or not. they are probably from out of town and it would not be economical for them to file a civil suit against you. I have had a couple of cases over the years where part of the deal to get the charges dismissed at the preliminary hearing was whether or not my client had paid the civil claim, but it is the exception.
Just as everyone else has said, you do not need to respond to these letters. They are usually sent by Loss/Prevention or Collection Lawyers to try to collect. They cannot force you to pay just based on these letters. In theory, they can always file a claim against you in small claims court. However, considering the amount they are demanding is only $180.00, it is unlikely they will do that. If they do file a law suit, contact a lawyer.