Retail Workers Share the Most Desperate Scam a Customer Tried to Pull

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Being a retail worker has its ups and downs. On the positive side, you gain valuable experience, get great discounts on some of your favorite items, and meet new people every day.

On the not-so-positive side, you deal with long holiday hours, a plethora of customer demands and sometimes even a couple of pesky scams. These retail workers reminiscence on some insane moments where customers tried to pull a fast one on them. As expected, these scams didn’t work out in the end.

Watch Out for Brinks!

A customer walked into the store and grabbed two ink cartridges off the ink wall. He walked to the register with an old receipt and said, “I want to return these.”

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He was that stupid. I saw him walk in, and the cartridges were still in the security cases. I called my manager and said, “The Brinks guy is pulling up.” This was our code for “We’ve got a criminal customer.” My manager ran to his office and dialed the cops real quick, then pretended to process a return. When the cops arrived, we pointed at the guy and out came the handcuffs.

Playing the Wrong Kind of Game

I used to work at a game store around 10 years ago. I once had a woman come in and ask for two PlayStation Portables (PSPs), two Xbox 360s and a handful of games and accessories. My store was pretty slow, so it would have been a pretty big sale for the day and I was excited about it.

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When she was ready to pay, she handed me a credit card which was not laminated and appeared to be printed out on a home color printer. I told her it wouldn’t work, but she told me to just scan it anyway. So, I scanned her fake credit card, which clearly did not have a magnetic strip, and it didn’t work. She then told me to just “put the numbers in” on the computer, but this time I refused. She told me she would be back with cash. I put everything back on the shelves. She did not return.

Roll Over Beethoven

Years ago, I worked at a small hardware store that constantly had huge rolls of copper wire stolen. One day, a guy and his girlfriend came in to return a roll. They had no receipt and when I scanned the item for the return, it was only ringing up the price per foot. I couldn’t figure out how to get the SKU or the price for the whole roll.

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I called the manager and he came out right away. Based on the sales reports for the past three months, he was confident that there was no way these people bought an entire roll. When he asked them when they had bought the roll, they said two weeks ago.

“Oh really?” my manager replied. “Because the last time we sold an entire roll was over three months ago.” The guy started to get brave and told him, “So you’re saying I stole it?” My manager raises his eyebrows and nods his head.

The couple ended up leaving and left the roll behind. Before they exited the store, the guy said, “I’m coming back and bringing the cops.” The manager said, “Go ahead. That way you can explain to them how you stole the roll.”

Failed to Phone It In

I sold a guy a phone years ago when I worked for a wireless carrier. I spent an hour getting all of his information transferred and setting up his new phone. He came in the next day with a shattered screen. Apparently, he didn’t remember that I was the rep who helped him the day before. He proceeded to tell me that the cracks were there when he left the store. Needless to say, the phone was not replaced.

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Wii Don’t Carry This

Years ago, I worked at a big-box store and this guy came in trying to return a Wii that allegedly didn’t work. “I just bought this for my kids last week and it’s already broken but they won’t take it back because I lost my receipt,” he told me.

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The Wii he presented to me was the most beat up and disgusting looking Gamecube I had ever seen. It was like he found it in a landfill or something. At the time, I wasn’t even working the return desk; I was stocking the food department. Turned out, he was trying to get every employee in the store to give him a refund.

Back in the Box

Someone called in wanting to know if we had spare boxes for Xbox consoles because he “wanted to prank his kid with an empty box”. I knew very well he wanted to try to stuff the box with who knows what and attempt a return. It would have never worked though because the folks at customer service check the boxes for the actual product and match the serials to those on the box.

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A Failed Switch

I used to work at a large electronics retailer. This guy came in and returned a laptop, saying that the box had an old laptop in it. When we refused to process the return, he started yelling and screaming, saying that we didn’t know how to do business.

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The complaining initially worked — my manager gave him a brand new laptop, even before we had a chance to check the old laptop. When the customer left, we examined the old laptop in the back room and it wouldn’t turn on. It looked like the motherboard was toast. We pulled the hard drive out and started checking the data. The hard drive was completely fine with everything in it. We then started deep diving his files for the clues and found the pictures of the guy who returned the laptop. It was his old machine.

We had all his information, so the manager called him and said he had 15 minutes to bring the new laptop back or he was calling the police. That guy came in, dropped the laptop at the front desk, and we never saw him again in the store.

If the Shoe Fits

I worked at a shoe store when I was in high school. I had a customer come in once to make a return. She was a perfectly normal-looking woman; likely in her late 50s or early 60s.

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I asked for her receipt, and she informed me she didn’t have it. Technically, I couldn’t process the refund without the receipt, but my manager was a bit more liberal. If the shoes were in perfect condition and in their original box, he was willing to make an exchange. But she told me she didn’t have the shoes either.

“Uh, we can’t do that,” I said to her. She ended up getting so mad that she grabbed a pair of stilettos and threw them at me before stomping out.

Third Time’s Not the Charm

At my old job, they used to give out coupons for specific dates. On Boxing Day, they had a 30% off sale, but customers also received coupons that they could use on the following day.

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One lady came in on Boxing Day and we worked out that she’d get a better deal if she used the coupon instead, so I offered to hold her items for her until the next day when the coupon was applicable. I explicitly told her that she wouldn’t be able to get the 30% off and she decided to use the coupon instead.

She came back the next day, went to purchase her items and threw a fit because they wouldn’t give her both the 30% off and let her use the coupon. She told the cashier that the person she’d spoken to the day before had told her she could do that. Then, she saw me and said out loud, “It was that girl who told me!”

I went to speak to her (I was a keyholder at the time) and her story changed about three times through the whole thing. She kept insisting that I told her she could combine the discounts.

“Well, I don’t understand why I’m not able to do this,” she kept saying. Another manager had to come over to help sort it out, and as I walked away, I heard her saying that I was a liar. Now, I work at a makeup store and we always get people trying to return fake products. My favorite one was when someone returned a face mask but had put a can of tuna in the box instead of the actual face mask.

Check the Expiration Date

I had a customer come in to purchase some stuff, and they had found a coupon from three years ago on Google Images for 50% off the entire purchase. I told her I couldn’t process her expired coupon for her purchase.

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She yelled at me and stormed out. She even emailed corporate, and I got in trouble for making her upset, despite the fact that I followed company policy.

Five Finger Lickin’ Discount

Back in high school when I worked part-time at a fast food restaurant that serves fried chicken, a man who would come in, order a two-piece quarter pack and then claim we forgot his chicken. When we turned around to fetch his drink at the end of the order, he would open the box, take out the chicken pieces and hide them in his pockets. Hot chicken. Right in his pockets.

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I got so fed up with everyone just giving him extra chicken all the time that I demanded he turned out his pockets one day. When he tried to pull them, a bunch of drumsticks fell out.

Straight to DVD

I worked in a liquor store. One afternoon, a shady character entered and spent 10 minutes browsing the liquor section. I stayed at the checkout and watched him on the CCTV. He ended up shoving two bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue down his pants and walked out. The store policy is that workers refrain from confronting shoplifters; that’s what insurance is for. I called the police and burnt the footage onto a DVD for them to collect.

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About an hour later, the same guy returned with the bottles demanding a cash refund because he “purchased the wrong type.” Just as I was telling him that I couldn’t do a refund without a receipt, the police walked in to collect the footage. He left with them in handcuffs.

Wrong Store, Ma’am

I worked at a place that had soft serve as a part of the menu. One time, a lady came up to the counter and said something along the lines of, “Hey, I’m really sorry. My daughter dropped her ice cream and she’s really sad about it. Do you think you could give me another?”

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I was about to, but I immediately realized an important fact: The ice cream machine was broken that day and we weren’t selling any. I looked back at her and told her that the ice cream must have not been from us. She turned bright red and mumbled, “Oh then, I guess it must be from another store or something…”

Smart TV, Not-So-Smart Customer

When I was working as an electronics cashier, I asked a woman if she needed help buying a TV. She said no and placed a smart TV into her cart. I asked her if she wanted to make the purchase at electronics, and she said she wanted to pick up a couple more things in electronics. I went to help another customer when I realized the woman was rushing towards the front of the store with the TV. I immediately called loss prevention and told them that someone was trying to run out with a TV. They stopped her at the door.

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Her immediate defense was, “I paid for this in electronics, I just left the receipt in my car.” I have no idea how that made any logical sense in her mind, since, of course, she couldn’t have the receipt in her car if she had just bought the TV in electronics.

They Have the Meats

I worked at a fast food place as a teenager. A guy came in, ordered a sandwich and fries, and wanted to pay with a check. Back then, people paid with checks all the time.

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The guy tried to convince me it would be “easier for the bank” if he just made out the check to himself instead of to the restaurant. He fired off some convoluted, off-the-cuff speech designed to gallop me into buying the story. I was young and naive, but not that naive.

He got mad when I denied him. I asked if he’d like to talk to the manager and he agreed. Three minutes later, my manager told him to leave the restaurant.

I Don’t Remember!

When I worked at the service desk of a local grocery store, we had this lady who wore sunglasses and long sleeves all the time. One day, she came in with a friend and tried to return beauty items, even though we didn’t have a beauty section in the store. She claimed she had no receipt due to her short-term memory loss. It was so hard not to laugh in her face. She had attempted to return things this way numerous times. We all knew what she was doing.

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Keeping Her Lies Clean

I had someone try to return two bottles of laundry detergent. She dropped them off at the counter and said she didn’t like the brand. She then walked off to do her shopping.

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I opened the detergent and smelled it. It was water. Both of the jugs were filled with warm water. During the exchange, she claimed that they were like that when she bought them. I explained to her that I couldn’t process the return.

A Low Note

I used to be a manager at a retail pharmacy for one of the bigger national chains. We had a customer try to trick us into giving him five cartons of milk for free. He planted a hand-written note at the front register when the cashier had her back turned. He then tried to convince her that he’d talked to a manager about some milk cartons that his wife had bought and left behind accidentally.  I’m pretty sure the cashier would have fallen for it, except she didn’t notice the note and I got to it first.

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Typical Fake ID Nonsense

I’ve been in and out of retail for 10 years, and one time, at a part-time gig I was working, a man and a woman came in looking sketchy as heck.

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They were scanning each and every register looking for gift cards, particularly the ones that were prepaid. I knew their game because I had dealt with this before. The woman came to my register. Originally, they wanted to go to self-checkout, but I told them that they could not purchase gift cards there (even though they actually could).

The woman came up to me and purchased $400 worth of gift cards. When it was time to pay, I asked her for her ID because she wanted to use “her” credit card. The woman in the driver’s license she handed over was totally different — she had no tattoos on her face, whereas the woman had stars below her eye.

I told her that her ID didn’t match and that I would not be able to complete the sale. I also threatened to call the police. She booked it out of there fast. Unfortunately, the man got away with it, because he had purchased his gift cards at another register.

A Creepy Surprise

I used to work for a store that did trade-ins for old gaming systems. One day, a man came in trying to trade in his Xbox 360 to get credit for an Xbox One. We’re pretty lax about the condition of the product — as long as it turns on, we’ll take it.

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I opened his box up and cockroaches just started crawling out. I almost dropped the entire thing. I told the guy we couldn’t accept it. He threw a fit and even had the gall to ask where in our terms it specifically said we couldn’t accept it.

The manager ended up getting involved and he eventually left, only to come back the next day to try it on another employee. I radioed the manager when I recognized him. The guy put up a fuss again and the manager eventually told him that he will give him the trade-in credit if he took his bug-ridden machine with him and never brought it back. I still get creepy crawlies thinking about those cockroaches.

Watch What Happens

I worked at a watch store for a while and if customers brought in their store-brand pieces we would replace the batteries. One time, a guy brought in his watch to get the batteries replaced. No problem.

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I took his watch to the back and replaced the battery. When I brought it back out front and handed it to him, he looked at it for a moment, and then looked at me and said, “That’s not my watch.” I didn’t know what to say. I eventually replied, “I’m sorry sir, I don’t know what to tell you. That’s your watch. It didn’t leave my hands from the moment you gave it to me.” He looked at it again and said, “No, that’s not my watch.”

Eventually, I told him, “I can ask for clearance from my manager to show you the repair station if you want to take a look back there.” My manager walked over and said, “Is everything okay?” The guy just walked out the door.

All Up in the Kool-Aid

I worked in a grocery store. One night, a guy was walking back and forth in front of the doors while kind of jerking a plastic bag. At some point, a big jug of wine broke through the bottom of the bag and smashed right in front of the doors. He started yelling at us, saying that our bags were terrible and demanding that we get him another bottle.

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I walked him outside and told him we couldn’t replace it because we didn’t have any wine jugs filled with black cherry Kool-Aid. Wine doesn’t smell like that.

No More Freebies

I had a teacher come in and ask for free samples because she wanted to fill the other teachers’ “Back to School” welcome bags. I told her the samples she was asking for were only included with purchase.

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But she kept nagging me about it, so I gave up and handed her a cute little bag with a few small samples inside. After that, she still kept asking me for more freebies and even tried making me feel guilty. I told her no and she ran out the door.

An Everyday Thing

I work at a cafe inside a big store and we have some regulars. Some are really nice, while others…not so much. This one woman we call “The Breadstick Lady” comes in probably every other day. She gets the same order every single time: two breadsticks. It has gotten to the point where she will walk into the store and hold up two fingers, and we will know to throw them into the oven at once. We also sell drinks, and the cups are found at the registers.

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So, she will buy the breadsticks and then grab two or three cups from a register and not pay for them. “I thought the breadsticks were a combo? Two breadsticks and three drinks?” she always says. And every day, we tell her she assumed wrong and has to pay. It’s crazy to see how many times she tries this.

A Strange $100 Update

I work in customer service and part of my job is to answer any incoming phone calls. We once got a call from a guy who identified himself as technical support. He told me that he wanted to update our systems and to do this, I needed to follow his instructions. I obviously knew this was a scam, but I decided to play along.

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He told me to log in to our computer and ring up a gift card for $100. Then, he wanted me to recite the gift card number for him and apparently, that would update our systems. It's still the funniest scam attempt I’ve ever seen.

American Cash, Please

I work at a grocery store, and one day a man came to my line with a handful of Canadian change, a total of $5. He demanded that I exchange it for five American dollars, but I told him that I couldn’t do that because of the exchange rate.

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He then responded, “Well, it all goes in the same register.” I told him that if he bought something, I could have him pay with the Canadian money and convert the change to American dollars, but he threw a fit and left.

The Ninja Turtles Aren’t Happy About This

An old lady walked in and went straight to the frozen section. She grabbed three frozen pizzas in plastic. She then proceeded to smash them on the edge of the freezer, breaking the pizzas apart.

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She walked up to my register and asked for a discount because they were broken. I informed her that I watched her break them and pointed to the cameras. She called me a "narc" and walked out.

Judge a Book by Its Stickers

When I worked at a large bookstore, we had this one couple that came in one day with 30 books they wanted to return. They said they were all gifts and they didn’t have the receipt for them, which was fine because we did returns like that for store credit. I started scanning the books and they were not showing up in our system, which was a problem because we couldn’t do a return if they were not in the system. This wasn’t super unusual because it happened sometimes with special order books, but as I went through the books, I could see that a couple of them had those little color stickers that thrift stores use to indicate the prices.

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Out of all the books they brought, I think maybe four or five of them were in our system. They seemed really upset and begged me to do something because they were hoping to use the credit for Christmas gifts for their kids. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do because if they didn’t show up in our system, there was no way we could accept them. I put what I could on a gift card and told them that maybe they should try selling the rest online. They said, “Yeah, we guess,” and left the store with defeated looks on their faces, hauling their books back with them.

On the Naughty List

I had a guy come in after Christmas to return what was obviously a fake jersey. He even held it up to a regular jersey for comparison and told me that I was color blind for not seeing them as the exact same. After he gave up trying to convince me, he changed his story, saying he knew that the jersey was fake but that his mom had bought it for him for Christmas and he just wanted the money.

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On top of this, he had no tags, receipt or any proof of how it was paid for so he had no way of “proving” the sale in the first place. He gave up on the return after trying to cuss me out and asking for my manager.

Cash Card of Failure

A scammer was trying to buy about $1,200 worth of stuff, including some Visa gift cards (which he wouldn’t show an ID for). I called the manager over due to suspicious behavior. This guy pressed on, pulling out a card that was quite obviously printed on thicker paper and saying that it was his “cash card.” He then told me what buttons to hit.

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The scammer was obviously trying to have me enter the transaction as if he paid in cash. At this point, my manager got there and I had the scammer explain the situation to her. She was just as suspicious as I was. He then tried to make a bunch of excuses, telling my manager that he was a university student and that he was just using his student loan card. I went on my break after a minute or two of this. The manager obviously didn’t accept the payment, and the scammer was detained by asset protection. It took about 15 minutes overall.

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