Short-Change Scams: Cashing in on Holiday Shopping

by J_Pratt

Cashier with cash

Pam pressed into the crowded cashier’s line. A $20 bill and a couple of small sale items were in one hand, and her excited and squirmy 4-year-old was in the other.

“Yes, sweetie,” she promised, “as soon as we pay for these things we’ll go see Santa. Just give me a couple minutes here.”

Finally, she was able to hand the money and purchases over the counter to the cashier, who rang up the items, threw them in a bag and then thrust the bag and several bills and coins in change back into Pam’s hand.  Anxious to get out of the way of the next shopper, Pam moved away from the cashier and headed out of the store towards the long line waiting to visit Santa.

It wasn’t until she had a few quiet moments standing in line that she was able to put the change in her purse. And it was only then that she realized that instead of the 1-$10 bill and 2-$1 bills she was expecting to see, she had 3-$1 bills. She had been short-changed $9.

$9 here. $4 there. It adds up. With so much distraction, this is an ideal time for short-change and bill-switching “sleight of hand” frauds. Some things to be mindful of while you are out shopping with cash:

  • Be conscious of the type of bills you are handing out. It’s easy to momentarily forget that you handed over a $50 bill when you are given change for a $20. Stay alert and be insistent that you clearly remember what bill you gave to the cashier.
  • Count the change you get back immediately. If the cashier does not “count back” the change to you (a dying art), stand your ground until you have counted it back yourself before leaving their presence.
  • Don’t let anyone interrupt your count. If the cashier starts counting out change, then stops to switch bills – “Oh! Let me take that $10 and give you some smaller bills” – make them start the count over and correctly account for all your change in one uninterrupted transaction.
  • Report any appearance of fraud to management. Even if you only think you may have been short-changed, make it a point to report your suspicions to management. Reports from more than one customer will allow the manager to watch the employee much more closely and catch them in the act.
  • If you make change as part of your job, beware of customers asking you to make change for a larger bill. If they wish to make more than one exchange at the same time, complete the first transaction before starting another to ensure each exchange balances exactly.

Don’t let scammers take the joy out of old-fashioned store shopping.  Simply keep in mind that not all fraud dangers are online. Enjoy the hustle and bustle – just stay alert.