Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ya Think They'll Notice?

April 16, 2013

I found myself in line at Walmart yesterday behind perhaps the dumbest criminal I've personally encountered.  He was in the express lane with four items:  a very large 'assembly-required' above ground pool (not a kiddie pool, mind you-a full-sized pool), two additional jumbo outdoor waterslide contraptions, and an expensive outdoor speaker set.  When the cashier rang up the first item, the pool, it rang up $1.88.  The cashier looked a little puzzled and said, "That doesn't seem right.  I wonder if there's another barcode on the box somewhere."  She turned the box over and found another barcode, scanned it, and seemed a little more satisfied with the price--closer to the $100 mark than the price of a king-sized candy bar.  She kept going on about how strange it was that the pool had the wrong price tag on it while the customer shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.  All the while, the cashier continued to ring up the remaining three items, not paying much attention to the prices as she scanned them, engaged as she was in the conversation with the young man trying to deck out his back yard for summer fun.  She finalized the sale and gave him is total: $148 and change.  Still waiting patiently behind this guy, I thought, "Seriously? That's the grand total?  Those speakers alone seem like they'd be worth more than that."

Before the young man went to make payment, the cashier summoned over a manager, who had been hovering nearby.  She required his assistance, since the speaker set had one of those security locks wound around it, which he had to unlock.  He came over and scrutinized the receipt and informed her that the SKU on the speaker box was not represented on the receipt.  She had scanned the barcode, but that barcode did not represent the product sitting before them, since the speaker set was a $499 set (thus, the security cable).  She kept trying to explain that she had, in fact, scanned what was on the box, while the manager continued to tell her that the items and the barcodes did not match up.  After several minutes of back-and-forth, finally the customer threw his hands up in the air and said he wasn't waiting around for them to figure out their system problems.  He walked out, empty handed.

After he left, the manager explained what had really happened:  he said the guy was  known as a frequent thief, one who regularly switched barcodes and changed prices.  He said he had stood there and watched him put the $1.88 price tag on the pool while he was waiting in her line, and another tag on the speakers.  She was upset that no one had told her to watch out for the guy if he was known for this sort of habitual fraud.  The manager was just waiting to thwart him and turn him away, hopefully without incident, by refusing to sell the items at what was clearly the wrong price.  I was surprised that they didn't want to go after him, but I suppose if he didn't actually complete the purchase, he didn't commit a crime in the strictest sense of the word.  (All of this explanation happened in front of me, the next customer in line, with several side-long, almost conspiratorial glances at me, as if to include me in the incident--it was us against that customer, and we'd won.)

So, although I don't necessarily think the cashier was as quick on the uptake as she could have been, I also think that the would-be criminal was criminally stupid.  If you're going to switch price tags--which I'm not in any way advocating, mind you--why on earth would you switch the price tag with an absolutely implausible one?  Wouldn't you think you'd want to put a tag on it that wouldn't arouse suspicion by any reasonable and half-way intelligent person?  Also, if you're going to try to get away with something like that, why would you choose an item which REQUIRES a manager to come over and remove a security tag?  There was nothing low-profile about the moves he was trying to pull.  Some might say audacious; I would venture to say just plain ol' stupid.  

Was it amusing to watch this guy feign first ignorance and then indignation (at the supposed incompetence of the Walmart barcoders who were clearly out to cause him problems)?  Well, sure.  But mostly it was a great source of irritation that while I watched this bungled sitcom of an attempted fraud unfurl before me, I wasted about fifteen minutes in line, impatiently tapping my toes waiting for my turn to purchase my three measly, correctly barcoded items.

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