Self Check-Out Scams

Secrets of the Self-Checkout Thief

Americans are busy, busy, busy. As consumers, they hate standing and waiting in lines at checkout. The want their goods and they want them NOW.

On the other hand, businesses would like to cut down on labor costs and redirect the savings to other areas of the business. What’s the solution? The addition of self-checkout as a payment option for consumers.

However, with the adoption of unmanned self-checkout of goods, shoplifting has nearly doubled in grocery stores. The degree of theft and the types of techniques used to steal have changed too. Why? Thieves have gotten more and more clever “stealing” goods from brick and mortar stores buying, using the time and labor cost saving technology against the business.

“Scan”, Bag, Steal

Make no mistake, shoplifting is a criminal offense related to the “taking” of property without a right to do so. However, when it comes to self-checkout, shoplifters are getting creative. It’s not just a matter of shoving something in a purse/backpack or under clothing anymore. Thieves now “trick” self-checkout technology to “steal” goods with a variety of methods.

Banana Trick

This method of theft leverages the ignorance of the machine. Basically, the shopper scans a lower priced item’s barcode for a higher priced item’s barcode (e.g. ringing up filet mignon at $14.00 per pound as bananas for $.59 per pound). The machine doesn’t know the difference between to two, so the lower per pound item is “passed off” as the higher priced item.

Pass Around

Items that leave the conveyor belt and are placed in the bag without being scanned at all are stolen with the “pass around” method. In other words, the thief “passes” the item around the payment device while pretending to scan the item for payment.

The Cover-Up

This technique involves hiding items in the bottom of the cart. The idea is “out of sight, out of mind”, so why should the shopper need to pay for it? It is also a perfect way to deny any wrongdoing if caught, “I didn’t realize that item was there, or I would have paid for it, sorry!”.


This method involves a little more work before getting to the self-checkout device. Here the swindler removes the price sticker off a lower price items and sticks it over a higher priced item’s sticker. Successful “switcheroos” are only done with items that have close to the same weight so the unexpected item in bagging area alert is not triggered, locking up the checkout screen and requiring management override.

Justified to Steal

These techniques to dupe a self-checkout machine sound cute and innocent. In fact, most people who steal from stores this way often justify their actions:

  • Why should I feel bad about taking a couple of items when the grocery store is cutting back on employees, eliminating jobs?
  • If the store is going to put me to work by checking out and bagging my own items, why shouldn’t I get a little back?
  • It’s their fault for turning their back on the customer; it’s a natural reaction to making the shopping experience impersonal!

No matter the justification, stealing is stealing. What is deemed as “external shrinkage” and not shoplifting by loss prevention experts will end up being paid for by the consumer in the long run. Stores will not just sit back and absorb the loss forever.

As companies continue to lose money in self check-out sections, other aspects of the business will begin to suffer if the stores do not compensate for the loss. So, what seems like an innocent “banana trick” today, could end up costing jobs and increasing prices on goods tomorrow.

SACS Consulting Helps Stores with Loss Prevention

SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc. can help your store alleviate external shrinkage. Whether it is internal theft and shrinkage, mystery shopper services or physical and electronic surveillance, we can provide fast, professional and affordable investigative services. Call 330-255-1101 or contact us to speak with one of our investigative professionals today.

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