Retailers around the world lost $100 billion last year due to theft, which includes shoplifting, thieving employees, and other scams and fraud. So if there is anyone that has a bad habit of nicking the occasional chapstick or pack of gum from a store, they should probably knock it off because it really adds up!
Whether it's someone trying to return a product that they clearly didn't purchase for cash, or attempting to use a credit card that's definitely not theirs, there are no shortage of ways for people to cook up schemes to get free stuff. It almost seems like the more technology is integrated into the shopping experience, the more avenues there are for swindling tricksters. Here are some of the retail workers of Reddit's wildest, most absurd stories about scams that customers have tried to pull.
It Was Insane How Often People Tried This Scam
“People take receipts from the trash outside or inside of establishments and look for items on the receipts they can steal. Usually, they’re things you can stuff into a coat and get $5 for. What they do is go trash diving, get a nice list of possible items to steal, and go smash stores around you or, if they are ballsy enough, steal from the store itself. After they get the receipt and the items, they go to cashiers to attempt returns.
If they are smart, which they usually are not, they aim for the max cash return possible. After $10+ or so, many stores make you take store credit or insist you return to the card it was purchased from. As a result, thieves will do tons of returns at many locations to get a hundred dollars or whatever their goal is.
I was made aware of this after watching my manager eyeball and call out a thief, ask her to wait, check the camera, and then confirm that the receipt didn’t belong to the person who was attempting to return two rolls of tinfoil. She put her hand on the items and asked her to leave. The woman buckled and left without asking why or asking for the items back. She explained to me the scheme and I was impressed by the effort.
Fast forward some months and I had an elderly man return some pills with a crumpled receipt. I don’t know why, but my suspicion meter was raised. It wasn’t raised enough for me to call bullcrap and the receipt was from another store so I couldn’t just hop on the camera archive and investigate without roping someone else in at another store. I processed the return because whatever, the old man got the wrong pills and had to find his crumpled receipt which he actually kept because that’s what old men and women do, right? Wrong.
This guy stopped to check the small trash bin near the store entrance on the way out, checking receipts about 10ft away from me. I like to think I summoned my hiring manager when I said, ‘Excuse me?’ in the sharpest tone possible because he dropped everything and scuttled his senior butt out of there as fast as possible. It was so blatant that I was offended more by that than the theft he got away with. Raw desperation, though, would be the guy trying to steal sausages, and when I caught him he said, ‘I’m hungry.’ Those words will ring in my ears for a while.”
They Ended Up Having To Pay The Piper…Literally
“I used to be a cashier at a local grocery store where we had a self-scan checkout. At night, very few employees were on. The store stayed open until 12 am and around 10:30-11, there were just two people working the front end.
One night, around 11 pm, one of the self-scan checkouts started blinking. There was a couple standing there waiting for someone to come assist them, so I went over and asked them what the problem was.
They immediately seemed nervous, so I looked at the items on the belt and compared them with the items on the screen. Something didn’t add up. Every single item was rung up for $1.20 or so and was labeled as a marked down ‘general merchandise’ item. But the things they were buying were all dairy, produce, and grocery products. Also, none of those items would ever be labeled as general merchandise, and I’d be hard pressed to find they all rang up for $1.20.
I told them, ‘Sorry, I need to void the transaction as there seems to be something wrong! Let’s take your groceries to the next checkout so you can get on your way and I’ll sort the problem out.’
We brought all their groceries over to another self-scan lane and I personally rang out each item. The total came out to like $150 or so! Then they begrudgingly paid and went on their way. Apparently, they had ripped off a general merchandise tag from one of our discount racks and pasted it to their hand to just swipe it and send an item down. I guess the machine realized something was fishy when each item came up at the same price.”
She Tried To Pull The Same Scheme Twice
“I was a cashier in a grocery store and one day a lady came up to my register with a grocery cart full of your typical crank making supplies (lithium batteries, draino, etc) and even asked me for some dry ice, but I knew what was up as soon as her scabby self walked up.
I rung her stuff up, knowing darn well that someone was going to end up putting it all back. She pulled out a single check to pay which had a man’s name on it, a different last name than her ID, and the signature on the check didn’t look like the man’s name at all. I told her I couldn’t accept the check and she proceeded to argue and demand a manager, who I happily called over.
He told her that there was no way we were accepting the check unless he came in himself to say it was legit. She asked us if a phone call would work and dialed a number as we told her no. She handed my manager the phone and some guy who was clearly messed up answered. We told him wrong number and hung up, then told her to leave before we called the police.
She left…and then came back later in the night (guess who was the only cashier that stayed late) and tried the same stunt again with the exact same check without realizing I was the same cashier that told her to kick rocks earlier. When she tried to pull the same stunt, I just told her to leave and never come back. She started demanding a manager and I just called the police right in front of her and told her they were on the way, but I couldn’t keep her there against her will. She left on her own. Crazy crank heads.”
McDonald’s Is An Interesting Place To Try A Grift
“I used to work at McDonald’s and gosh I have many stories.
One day, we were closed for refurbishment and some poor sap had to mind the store while the construction crew went about their business (me). The phone rang and a customer asked, ‘Are you the manager?’ I confirmed that I was indeed the manager and then listened to him ramble about how we always mess up his order and that we didn’t give him the Big Mac Meal he ordered at lunchtime.
I eagerly clarified that it was my store and that he came in around lunch, and he said yes. The silence when I told him that we had been closed for two days was a thing of beauty: ‘…Oh, must be the wrong store…’
Another time, a customer came into the store and said, ‘I Ordered a Fanta and the lid came off because you didn’t put it on properly and it ruined all my food, so I want you to replace my order.’
‘When was this?’ I asked. He explained that it was the night before so I asked what he ordered and he said it was two large double cheeseburger meals.
‘So, do you have the receipt?’
‘Do you have the food?’
I explained that there was nothing I could do, unfortunately. He then lost it and started screaming at me, ‘You ain’t going to replace my food when you didn’t put the lid on properly? It’s all your fault!’
‘Nothing I can do,’ I repeated. Then he claimed that he was burned by his beverage. His face was priceless when I reminded him that he said he had purchased a Fanta, which typically don’t burn people. His empty-handed walk of shame out of the restaurant was a thing of real satisfaction.”
The Antics Of Cheapskates Led To Additional Work For The Employees
“I worked at a Winn Dixie when I was a teenager. They had these really good sales on crab meat, like $5 for a 1lb can. One day this woman came in with four cans asking for a refund; the cans were bulging and hot to the touch. She claimed that they were like that when she bought them. ‘Really? Sure you didn’t leave them in the car all day?’
The store also had a policy that they would sell meat that was about to expire for 50% off. People would grab steaks out of the meat department and hide them in the freezer section, under or behind other products, then come back later to buy them. Not only is it pretty obvious when someone is digging through frozen peas to pull out a steak, it’s really obvious when they come through the register with a frozen steak.
They also had a buy one get one free if someone found expired bread. People would hide bread in other sections of the store then come back for it a few days later. I remember one lady had a cart literally overflowing with bread, half of it expired.
As a result of these shenanigans, we had to comb the store every night for products hidden in the freezers.”
His Reason For Wanting A Discount Was Absurd
“Our store was open until midnight the two last nights of the financial year calendar. Apparently, they thought someone might come in at 11:59, the last chance they had to deck out their entire office with new laptops and chairs and stuff. After 9 pm, the store was pretty much a complete ghost town. By 10-11 the store was the cleanest it ever was since it was built.
One night the phone rang around 11:30 pm. The guy wanted to know if we were still open because he wanted to buy something specific. It turned out we had it in stock and he told me (several times) that he was going to get out of his pajamas, get dressed, and come down to the store. I was like, ‘Sure, the item will be at the front counter whenever you’re here to collect it.’
So he showed up and told me, again, that he had to get out of his pajamas, get dressed, and come down to the store to pick up the item. It was about 11:45 pm at that point and so I just told him how much it was going to cost. Then he asked for a discount. I asked why and he said, ‘For being your last customer of the evening!’
I told him no, there’s no reason for giving out that kind of a discount and besides, we weren’t closed yet. There might be other customers, you know. He might not have been the last one that night and in any case, the item costs what it costs. He told me again that he had to get out of his pajamas, get dressed, and come to the store to buy the item. He paid full price for all his troubles.”
CDs, Cleaner, And Tech-Gear, Oh My!
“When I was working the Kmart returns counter, I had a guy try to return a CD (with receipt). The shrink wrap had been sliced and the CD had been taken out. He claimed it was like that when he bought it.
I told him I couldn’t return it for cash but could swap it for the same thing. He went to get a new CD and brought some other artist, but I told him it had to be the exact same thing. I had the electronics employee bring up the right CD. As I checked that they were the same and told him I would give him a new one, a smile grew on his face…which quickly melted away when I took out a knife and cut open the plastic on the CD. No, you can’t return that one later.
Another scammer that I actually caught was this guy who was paralyzed on the left half of his body. He walked slowly around the store, dropping stuff and drooling (never did find out if he was actually paralyzed or if it was just part of the scam). One day, I caught him bagging Oxy-Clean in his cart. I notified my manager and she started watching him.
He went through self-checkout and told me he bought the Oxy-Clean in electronics. My manager called electronics and no such sale was made. I think she let him go that time, but the next time he came in, he was greeted by the police.
This one was an inside job: The guy who worked in electronics also did layaway, and one of the service desk girls would put a giant bag of dog food in layaway. Then the electronics guy would empty the bag and fill it with expensive electronics. It turned out they had been getting away with it for years when the loss prevention staff changed and the new manager knew how to actually police the place.”
Sounds Like This Guy Got His Karmic Just Desserts
“I work at a major cell phone retailer. I once had a man come in with his wife to do an upgrade to whatever the new iPhone was at that time. While they were sitting in the store working with one of my reps (I was in management at the time), the wife started getting text messages from someone claiming to be her husband’s mistress. It did not go over well.
They took it outside before it got very nasty and we all assumed they were gone for good. Not so, the husband came back in. Alone. He finished upgrading his phone (priorities) and left. The very next day, he tried to return the phone claiming that we had sold him one with screen damage. He brought it in and it looked like someone took a diamond ring or something to the screen and scratched the heck out of it.
Now we had a strict ‘open the box and hand it to the customer before they leave’ policy to avoid these situations. I was able to pull tape, show the customer where he held the phone for a good 5 minutes without pointing out any flaws, and told him that my company offered no warranty on that brand even if it was bad out of the box, especially when he didn’t show it to us before leaving the store. I suggested he take it up with the manufacturer if he truly believed the phone was damaged out of the box.
He did, right there in the store, and called them. They also told him to kick rocks. The best part? I was new to management so I didn’t have a manager name tag yet. He asked to speak to the manager and I got to give him my best evil grin and say, ‘I am the manager.’ He left after that and we never saw him again.”
Someone Has To Be Pretty Desperate To Try Scamming Smokes For A Buck
“‘I’d like to return this unopened pack of smokes I purchased earlier today at your establishment.’ I open the store every day and hadn’t seen this dude once that day. I looked at his smokes and they were a brand we don’t carry. I asked him for a receipt to ‘confirm’ he purchased them here, but he obviously didn’t have one.
‘That’s fine! If you can just tell me what time you were in here today, I can look it up on our cameras to confirm your purchase.’
My God, the backpedaling and stuttering. I grabbed his pack and fake examined them.
‘Wait a moment, sir, are you sure you purchased these at this store? I don’t think we carry this brand,’ He took the pack back and came up with something about how his brother actually got them and then walked out.
A store in town sells some of the brands we carry at a much cheaper price, so people like to try and do returns at our store to make a quick buck. We generally don’t take any returns on smokes, but this guy didn’t even scope out his mark.”
His Bold Scheme Got Dragged Out For Years And Years
“I used to work at a place that sold timber, roofing iron, etc. One Saturday morning, this guy came in and wanted a couple of bags of cement, so I rang up the sale and then went to load up the order. He told me not to worry and that he’d do it, so I explained that it was my job to do it. Then when I reached for the first one, he stood between me and the bag. Again, I insisted that I had to load the concrete; it wasn’t an option. At that point, he got quite aggressive, with yelling and arm waving, so I went inside to find my boss. Just as we came back out, he reached down, started to pick up the bag…and threw his back out.
He was writhing around on the floor for a while and then demanded an ambulance. He told my boss that I refused to help him load the bags and so he was going to sue us for millions. What he didn’t know is that a lot of people try to steal the cement, so there were two security cameras pointing right at him the whole time, recording everything he said and did…including a long discussion with his wife about how we would pay him a stack of cash to keep this out of court and so on.
The company didn’t say a word about the tapes until just before we had to be in court to make sure that he spent as much money on his lawyer as possible. The first law firm he hired dumped him immediately and then he spent a year or more going around trying to find someone new to represent him. Eventually, he did, and they came up with some bullcrap story about how he was not talking about THAT company on THAT day and was, in fact, referring to some other scam he was planning to pull later on down the track.
Anyway, it all ended up in court eventually, and it turned out that the guy actually had hurt himself. But if you watched the footage, you could see that he twisted in a specific way, which took our lawyers about 5 seconds to prove was him triggering a preexisting injury. Then his lawyers argued that we had been negligent, and he should never have been able to physically access the bags of cement in the first place. Believe it or not, the court agreed.
Where it gets fun again is that the court awarded him $250k, and the second that they did so, THE FIRST law firm put in a demand on the money because he had signed an agreement that they would get a % of the amount awarded…but did NOT say that they had to be representing him when he won the case. On top of that, he owed the money immediately because there was also nothing in the contract that said that it was subject to him actually receiving the money, only that it had to be awarded.
I left the company shortly after that, but I spoke to my boss one day and he said that they never paid it. They dragged it out for like seven years and by that time, the whole company went broke for other reasons and the payout just went into a massive pool of something like $125 million worth of debt.”
He Stopped A True Tragedy That Day
“I used to run the weapons counter at a store. One day, a sketchy guy came in to buy a glock. I didn’t like the way he was acting and the way he was answering my questions about what type of item he was looking for. He decided on a weapon and I decided that I was not going to sell it to him. My store is strict about this. If I didn’t feel comfortable, I could deny the sale and there’s nothing he could do. He could call managers or HQ and complain, but they will always side with me.
He handed me his ID to start the paperwork. I always let them start the process so that I have names and addresses, and his name seemed really familiar. I had sold him a weapon the day before but it wasn’t him. I let him completely fill out the form and compared it to what I had from the day before. I asked him how he liked the weapon he purchased yesterday.
That took him by surprise and I knew what was happening. I called the code words to have management call the police without suspicion. The man was using his father’s identification to purchase his weapon. He was a junior, but I was going to run a check on the senior. The police arrived and fear washed over his face. They put him in cuffs before even speaking to me.
They knew who he was the second they saw him and knew he was not allowed to touch weapons. I showed them his ID and the paperwork. The guy is now in prison for lying on federal documents, being a violent felon in possession of a weapon, and identity theft. The next day, the police came back and told me that he admitted to trying to buy the weapon to kill his wife and son. I had a little bit of a breakdown and sat in the break room for about an hour just thinking about the incident.”
He Got In Trouble For Trying To Prevent Fraud
“I’ve been in and out of retail for 10 years, and one time at a part-time gig that I had (I have a full-time job, too), this couple came in looking sketchy as all heck. They definitely had a substance abuse problem. They were scanning each and every register looking for gift cards, particularly those ones that were prepaid like Visa or MasterCard. I knew their game as I’d dealt with it before.
The woman came to my register. Originally, they wanted to go to self-checkout, but I told them they couldn’t purchase gift cards there (they can, I just wanted to catch them). The woman came up to me, purchased $400 worth of gift cards, and when it was time to pay, I asked her for her ID because she wanted to use ‘her’ credit card. The ID she had and who she was were two different people.
The woman in the driver’s license had no tattoos on her face, but this woman had stars below her eye. I told her, ‘This is not you, I will not sell these to you, and I will call the police.’ She booked it out of there. Unfortunately, the man got away with it because he had purchased his at another register before the woman came to me. And wouldn’t you know it, I got in trouble for doing that.”