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Stealing To Eat
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Store Clerks Ripping Off Buyers, Employers

By James Donahue

The crime of shoplifting is reportedly on the increase as Americans struggle against the crunching economy. And a recent report finds that store clerks may be stealing as much if not more from the stores that employ them.

A recent study found that the latest fraud among workers has been to issue themselves gift cards and then use the cards to buy clothes, television sets or simply falsify the purchase and take the cash from the stores where they work.

The latest scam is now estimated to be costing retailers an estimated $36 billion a year throughout the United States, the study found.

One case involved a clerk caught attempting to use a gift card to ring up $130,000 in false merchandise at a Saks store in Manhattan.

Police say the gift card swindle is more difficult to catch or even track because buyers that use them don’t have to show ID.

There are a variety of tricks used by store workers to steal.

--Cashiers fake refunds of merchandise and then use their registers to electronically create gift cards for themselves.

--When shoppers buy gift cards, cashiers give them blank cards and divert the money into cards for themselves.

 --Friends or relatives bring goods to the cash register but the clerk doesn’t scan them. Instead the money is removed from the till. This is known as “sweethearting” with two people involved.

--One Sears store worker was caught manipulating the store’s computers to divert more than $35,000 into gift cards for his personal use.

Store worker theft is cleverly aimed at customers as well. My wife, who pays careful attention to prices, calculates almost to the penny what she plans to spend each time she shops, has been noticing something has been awry almost every time she shops at a local grocery outlet. The ticket always came up between five and ten dollars higher than she expected.

Since we are retired and on a fixed income, and only shop about twice monthly, our shopping cart is always quite full and it was easy to overlook the discrepancy at first. But Doris discovered, after careful examination of her shopping receipt one week, that there were one or two odd purchases listed that she could not account for. They were vaguely identified on the receipt and difficult to track to any item purchased..

When compared to past receipts from that same store it was discovered that the same item was listed on nearly every one of them. Whatever it was added about ten dollars to our bill.

There have been other times that we have had items in our shopping card that were paid for, but they didn’t come home with us. We suspect the items were tucked under the counter, returned to the shelf, and the clerks pocketed the money we paid for them.

Another time a man going through check-out right ahead of me purchased a can of paint. When my purchases were rung up I noticed the bill was about $20 more than I expected to pay. I examined the receipt and discovered that I had paid for the other man’s can of paint. When I complained the clerk apologized and said she must not have cleared her register after the other customer left. But if that were true, I should have been charged for all of the other items the man bought. I suspected it was an attempt to rip me off and pocket the difference.

Is this a sign of carelessness, stupidity, or are these store clerks aggressively stealing? And if they are stealing, what is causing them to do it?

We suspect the problem lies in the fact that workers today are not earning enough to cover the cost of providing for the basic needs of their families. In some cases the clerk in that store may be the sole breadwinner, with an unemployed spouse and children depending on what income he or she may bring home from that meager paying store job.

If there are mortgage payments, numerous credit card payments, a car payment, and bills for groceries, clothing and medical costs, the weekly earnings of a Wal-Mart employee are not going to cover them all.

The alternative for the worker is to seek a better paying job, which in most cases does not exist, quit and try to get along on food stamps and unemployment benefits, go bankrupt and live on the street . . .or steal. When it is a question of survival, we all know what our choice might be.

It is sad to think things have fallen to this level.