January 31, 2023 | Eul Basa

Retail Workers Share The Worst Scams Customers Tried To Pull Off

“A scam is only a scam when it is discovered by the gullible that were taken in by the lure of making easy money in the first place.”―Anthony T. Hincks.

Retail and scams go together like peanut butter and jelly. Anyone who has ever worked in retail will surely share that point of view. As hard as the job of working in retail can be, on top of it all, they have to constantly deal with people trying to get one over on them, which, as bad as that is, can also cost them their job.

Luckily, most people can see through these ridiculous plots and scams and have gone to the internet in order to share their experiences for our entertainment. So, sit back and enjoy these crazy stories about times people tried to scam retail employees, and don’t try and get any funny ideas! Retail employees are smarter than you think and many of these scammers are stupider than they thought they were.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

40. The Free Phone Store

I once had a dude try to score a free iPhone.

He came into the department I worked in, and started describing this vague iPhone to us, saying he'd lost it in here earlier.

No other details were given, like phone case, or specific color, just an iPhone. Further questions were asked about where he thinks he might of left it in here and he just went quiet and said, "It's fine, actually. Maybe somebody else has it." And left.

Our opinion is he knew that sometimes stores will keep people's phones that they find until the owners come back and then they hand over the phone. He wanted to score a free iPhone.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

39. Copper Stories

Years ago I worked at a small hardware store where they were constantly getting huge rolls of copper wire stolen. One day this guy and his girlfriend come in to return a roll. I was a few months in on the returns counter. They had no receipt and when I scanned the item for the return it was only doing the price per foot. I couldn’t figure out how to get the SKU or the price for the whole roll.

Called the manager and he comes out and right away knows there’s no way these people bought a roll and returned it. So he asks when they bought it and they say two weeks ago—the common response—and my manager tells them “Oh really, because the last time we sold an entire roll was over 3 months ago.”

The guy starts to get brave and tells him “So, you’re saying I stole it?!” And my manager says yes. They end up leaving and left the roll behind. Before they leave the store the guy says “I’m coming back and bringing the cops.” The manager says “Go ahead. That way you can explain to them how you stole the roll.”

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

38. The Deli Gambit

I work at an Italian deli/specialty market. It’s family owned and has a super tight-knit cast of employees. It’s also in a rougher part of town.

One day, a presumably homeless woman came into the store. No big deal, we’re by the shelter and a lot of the homeless folks are friendly and just getting something nice to eat. However, this lady was clearly out of her mind. Whether it was drugs or mental illness wasn’t clear. Honestly, probably both.

She was in the store for an hour just harassing employees and customers. Eventually, the owner—the Italian man after which the store is named—had to intervene. He firmly asked the lady to leave, but she had a surprising response. She said, “Oh, it’s okay, I work here.”

Imagine the surprise on the owner’s face. He certainly didn’t remember hiring her. Dumbfounded, he told her that was impossible, since he’s in charge of the hiring, to which she responded: “Oh, are you hiring?”

Honestly, I’ve got to respect a good gambit. Unfortunately for her, it didn’t seem to pan out. I don’t have any new coworkers yet

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

37. Framing Her Aunt

A long time ago I worked for an IT company that had super strict contact policies. Only named parties could call us for support because a lot of the time our records would contain confidential information for staff at the company. So, designated person from HR was fine, but Larry from the warehouse couldn't get information.

One time I got a call, from the company my aunt used to work for. I knew she'd quit a few weeks before and I'd told her when they first signed up to make sure there were a couple of people on the contact list in case someone quit. Sure enough I look at the account and still only my aunt's name was on the list of people we could talk to.

I ask for the caller's name so I could politely explain the deal and send them off to get their boss to do the bull workaround we had for this process. This complete stranger uses my aunt’s name.

I say look, I have to advise you that giving false information to access confidential records is fraud and a criminal offence—it was where we lived at the time. I asked “Are you sure that's your name?” Which you'd think would be a massive clue that I knew she was lying.

She immediately got offended and how dare I, do I need to speak to your manager and so on. I said “Ok Aunt <name>, how are <my cousins>? I thought you said that you'd finished working at <company> last week when you came over for dinner.”

Long silence from the other end of the phone, then “You don't need to be a jerk about it.”

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

36. Flying Stilettos

One of my first jobs in high school was working at a discount shoe store.

I had a customer come in once claiming she needed to make a return. A perfectly normal looking woman, likely in her late 50s early 60s, she looked like a teacher or something.

I asked for her receipt, and she informed me she didn't have it. Okay—technically I can't refund them that way, but my manager was a bit more liberal and if the shoes were in perfect condition and in their original box, we might have been able to arrange an exchange. I then asked if she could put the shoes on the counter.

She told me she didn't have the shoes either.

At this point, I was as confused as you, dear reader. Yes—she tried to come in and convince me to "return" a pair of shoes that aren't physically present, and essentially open the register and give her cash out of it.

Dumbstruck, I told her "Uh—we can't do that." She proceeded to get enraged and grabbed a pair of stilettos and threw them at me before stomping out.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

35. Decade-Old Coupons

I was working at a chain toy store about five years ago. I had someone try Google image searching coupons, and was confused as to why it didn't work. The coupon had expired 10 years prior.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

34. Tasting Organic

Once a customer said we charged them for organic sweet potatoes instead of normal. It happens a lot, especially in self serve, because people can't read. I was like “Do you have the receipt?” He said no. I was like “Do you have the potatoes?” He had already eaten them. I had no response.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

33. Adderall Addiction

A guy comes in to fill his son’s Adderall prescription. Guy is super twitchy and son is chill as could be. For all controlled substances, we are supposed to run a report that shows everywhere in the state they have filled any other requests for the same controlled substances.

Of course, the report is a mess, with results showing up for multiple pharmacies, multiple scripts, multiple doctors, all the red flags. To top it off, an Adderall prescription had been filled within that week, so we really couldn’t fill this one.

The dad comes back, we tell him that we cant fill it, and he starts going on about how his wife must have filled it but they need some for today, blah blah blah. We decline and his last words to us are “My son needs them for a birthday he has to go to today, can’t you help?”

No dude, we can’t help. You’re clearly taking your sons pills. Get help and stop using your son to get high on prescription drugs.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

32. Scamming the Wrong Employee

Sold a guy a phone years ago when I worked for a wireless carrier. Spent an hour getting all his information transferred and set up his new phone. He comes in the next day with a shattered screen.

Apparently, he didn’t remember that I was the rep who helped him and proceeded to tell me that is how it looked when he left the store. Needless to say the phone was not replaced.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

31. Returning the Carcass

A woman came in, grabbed an herb-roasted rotisserie chicken, moseyed over to the casual seating, ate 85% of it with her bare hands, then brought the carcass to customer service and tried to return it.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

30. A Trail of Ink

A favorite moment from my old retail days. Customer walks into the store and grabs two HP ink cartridges off the ink wall. Walks to the register with an old receipt and says "I want to return these".

Yeah... 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"—our code for "got a criminal customer." He came running up to his office and dialed the cops real quick, then he walked up to the register. A few minutes pass while he is pretending to do a fake return, and the cops come walking in.

We point at the guy, and out come the handcuffs. Moron.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

29. Calling in Grandma

I worked for my mother-in-law at her home decor store. I had an older woman come in and when I rang her up she said she got a discount because she was the owner's mom.

My immediate reaction was to yell, "GRANDMA!" and throw my arms out like I wanted a hug. She left very quickly. It was not my grandmother-in-law.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

28. The Pack Half Empty

"I'd like to return this unopened pack of cigarettes I purchased earlier today at your establishment."

I open the store every day, hadn't seen this dude once that day. Looked at his cigarettes, it's a brand we don't carry. Asked him for a receipt to "confirm" he purchased them here, but he obviously didn't have one.

"That's fine! If you can just tell me what time you were in here today I can look it up on our cameras to confirm your purchase."

My goodness, the backpedaling and stuttering he did. I grabbed his cigarette pack and fake examined them.

"Wait a moment sir, are you sure you purchased these at this store? I don't think we carry this brand." He took the cigarettes back, came up with something about his brother must have, yada yada, and then he walked out.

A tobacco store in town sells some of the brands we carry at a much cheaper price, so people like to try and do returns at our store to make a quick buck. We generally don't take any returns on tobacco, but this guy didn't even scope out his mark.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

27. Always Check the Box

Had a customer return a vacuum cleaner once. My supervisor did the return, thankfully. The box went back on the floor unchecked. The next customer who wanted to buy it checked it out before they went to the register. The whole damn thing had been replaced with a catering size tin of beetroot.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

26. Tuna Face Mask

At my old job, they used to have sales pretty often and would also give out coupons for specific dates. For Boxing Day, they had a 30% off sale and we'd also given out coupons that would start the next day. This lady comes in on Boxing Day and we worked out that she'd get more of a deal if she used the coupon instead, so I offered to hold her items for her. I explicitly told her that she wouldn't be able to get the 30% off and she decided to use the coupon instead.

She comes back the next day, goes to cash to purchase her items and gets angry 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, sees me, and says "It was that girl who told me!"

I went to cash to speak to her—I was a keyholder at the time—and her story changed about three times through the whole thing.

First, she said that I told her she could combine the discounts, then she said that I never told her she couldn't combine the discounts, and then finally it was "Well, I don't understand why I'm not able to do this." Another manager came 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 cosmetics 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.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

25. Frozen

I worked at a cosmetics and hair care store and someone tried to return the big liter-size bottles of shampoo and conditioner, but they had filled them with water and FROZE them. The temperature and condensation was a dead giveaway, so we refused to return their items. They proceeded to call corporate to complain and got a $100 gift certificate, and then we got scolded.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

24. Using Diabetes for a Movie

I work at a movie theater. We have a five dollar discount day. A customer comes over and starts telling me how she was there the prior day and that we had given them the wrong soda and her diabetic husband had drunk it and suddenly had to go to the hospital to get medication to "cure him".

Several things wrong with that story:

  1. That's not how diabetes works. You don't die from one sip of soda, and generally, if you did, you'd have insulin to take.
  2. The employee she had complained to in order to call me over had been the only people working concessions the prior day and somehow she failed to identify him when I asked her who it was.

I asked her for a ticket stub or proof of purchase, and she came up with nothing. I went to the attendance for the prior day and pulled the report for the movie they claimed to have seen. To my delight, the showtime they claimed to have seen had zero tickets sold to it.

I printed the report and went back to meet them.

"Yes, sorry, looks like there were zero tickets sold to that showtime." And I showed her the report. She then tried to say we sold her tickets to the wrong movie. I told her that was impossible because then she would have been in the wrong auditorium. She had no response to that. Then she spluttered that she "guessed she would just go buy tickets" and I said, "Yeah, I guess so."

She left.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

23. Empty Box Ruse

Just yesterday I had a till tapper/quick change artist try to money shuffle me for what would've been a grand sum of $5. Pissed him off when I wouldn't play his game.

Next best was someone calling wanting to know if we had spare empty boxes for Xbox consoles, because he “wanted to prank his kid and give him an empty box.”

I knew very well he wanted to try to stuff the box with who knows what, and attempt a return. Of course, the folks at customer service check such boxes for the actual product, and match serials to those on the box.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

22. What Corporate Says, Rules

I had a customer come to purchase some stuff, and they had found a coupon from 3 years ago on Google Images for 50% off whole purchase. I told her I can't do that, and the only one we had going at the time was not viable for her purchase. She yelled stupid loud, stormed out cursing, and I felt good. She emailed corporate, and I got in trouble for making her upset…

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

21. Trading Up

Years ago I worked at a Walmart and this guy comes in trying to return his "Wii" that doesn't work. He says "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."

The "Wii" in question was the most beat up and disgusting-looking Gamecube I have ever seen, like he found it in a landfill or something. I should also point out that I wasn't working the return desk or even a cashier. I was stocking the food department. Turns out he was trying to talk to every employee in the store into either giving him a refund or a Wii.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

20. What Would Jesus Pay

I always get questions that go like this:

  1. This projector is going to be used at our church, can we get a discount?
  2. This flat screen TV is going to be used at our church, can you wave the taxes?
  3. Church. Discount?

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

19. Using Tragedy

September 12, 2001. USA. A guy in Spartanburg South Carolina calls and says that his weed trimmer was in the Twin Towers in NYC the day before and got destroyed by terrorists. And demanded I replace it under warranty.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

18. But the Email Said So

Telling me she had a voucher for 50% off in her emails, but she didn’t have a copy with her. I was like “No, but nice try.”

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

17. Should’ve Gone to the Zune Store

Idiot comes in with a coupon for a free iPod. The fine print says: "Guaranteed and payable by Bill Gates." I asked why would Bill Gates guarantee an Apple product. Idiot left.

Customer Scams factsFlickr

16. Ditching the Makeup

A customer shows me a coupon on his phone.

Several problems with this.

  • It's against corporate policy to scan coupons off the phone. There's a sheet of paper taped to the counter with all of the rules and it's like the sixth one on it.
  • When my kowtow-ing jerk of a manager scanned the stupid damn thing anyway, the system rejected the coupon, saying that the coupon wasn't issued to him.
  • The offer that the coupon was for was different than the offer shown on his phone.
  • There was an Instagram stamp on the coupon on his phone.

Also: Customer tries to return some makeup without a receipt. I look it over and tell her I can't return it. She tries to say that we have to since we sell it here and what not. I tell her I can't return it because it has a security label from the grocery store that's five miles down the road. She books it out and leaves said makeup behind.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

15. Sega Saran Wrap

Had a guy try to return 2 Sega cd games for cash. Problem was, they were wrapped in Saran Wrap. And then had the gall to exchange them for properly wrapped games so he could go across the street to Walmart and return them for cash there. He and his buddy must have really needed beer money.

Also have seen people try on new shoes, put the old ones in the box, and walk out with the new ones.

Had an old man act like he was pulling a gun out of his waist just to get away from loss prevention.

And one of my favorites, had the two women grab a bag from luggage and put a bunch of rolls of film in the bag. Then try to ditch the bag because we were following them.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

14. Using the Military

I was working at a clothing store for a while in college.

They offered 10% military discount with photo ID.

A lady comes to my register on Black Friday with an alleged photocopy of her husband's ID.

I kindly told her that would not be accepted and she was not eligible for a discount unless she could produce dependent ID on an official card.

She was angry.

I gave zero cares.

Guess who paid full price?

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

13. A Lady’s Gotta Try

I was working at a place that has soft serve as a part of the menu. I was working one day and 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?”

I was about to, then I realized an important fact: the ice cream machine was broken that day and we weren't selling any ice cream. I looked back at her and told her that it must not be from us because of the machine. She turned bright red and mumbled "Oh then I guess it must be from Dairy Queen or something..." and left quickly. Nice try, lady.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

12. No Thank You, Ma’am

I work at a clothing store, and about a year ago, I had a very very drunk 50+-year-old lady come through my line. After ringing up her $100+ worth of clothes, she then began to hit on me and insinuate that she could “work” for the free clothes, if you get what I mean. That was the quickest nope I have ever said in my life.

Customer Scams factsPixabay

11. Know Your Audience

When I worked at the service desk of a local grocery store we had this lady who was super skinny and wore sunglasses and long sleeves all the time.

One day she came in with a friend and tried to return beauty items—we didn’t have a beauty/makeup section—and claimed she had no receipt due to “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.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

10. Day Man(ager), Fighter of the Night Man(ager)

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

I wonder how it smells so I open the detergent and smell it. It’s water. Both of these jugs are filled with warm water.

During the exchange, she tries to claim they were like that when she bought them. I explain I can't return them and she will have to talk to the day manager.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

9. Paper Identification

I had a customer try to pay with a cheque using an ID that was very obviously made of paper. When I wouldn't accept it, she tried to get her boyfriend to fight me. He laughed and awkwardly walked out of the store. Leaving her there, crying now, from the embarrassment of failure I guess?

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

8. Chicken Pockets

Oh boy, back in high school when I worked part-time at a fried chicken place, there was this one man who would come in, order a 2 piece quarter pack, and then claim we forgot his chicken. Like, 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.

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 it and WOW LO AND BEHOLD this guy has his pockets full of drumsticks.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

7. Gameboy, Nintendo, What’s The Difference Anyway?

It happened when I worked at a big store. A guy came in to get a refund for the Nintendo 3DS he bought the day before, but when we opened the box, it was an old, beat-up Gameboy. Like, do they think we’re that stupid and aren’t going to tell the difference?

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

6. Inside Job

When I worked the returns counter at a department store, I had a guy try to return a CD with receipt. The shrink wrap had been sliced, and the CD taken out. He claimed it was like that when he bought it. I told him I couldn't return it for cash but could swap it for the same thing. He went to get a new CD and brought one by some other artist. I told him it had to be the exact same thing. I had the electronics employee bring up the right CD.

As I checked that they were the same and told him I would give him a new one, a smile grew on his face... which quickly melted away when I took out a knife and cut open the plastic on the CD. No, you can't return that one later.

Another scammer that I actually caught was this guy who was paralyzed on the left half of his body. He walked slowly around the store, dropping stuff and drooling. I never did find out if he was actually paralyzed or if it was just part of the scam.

One day I caught him bagging Oxy-Clean in his cart. Notified loss prevention and she watched him. He went through self-checkout and told me he bought the Oxy-Clean in electronics. Loss prevention called electronics, no such sale was made. I think she let him go that time but the next time he came in, he got a police escort.

Another story was an insider job. This guy who worked in electronics also did layaway. One of the service desk girls would put a giant bag of dog food in layaway. Then the electronics guy would empty the bag and fill it with expensive electronics. Turns out they had been getting away with this for years then the loss prevention staff changed and the new lady in charge knew how to police the place.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

5. Counterfeit Card

I used to work a game store a little more than 10 years ago. Once, I had a woman come in, dressed fairly trendy, and ask for 2 PlayStation Portables (PSP), 2 Xbox 360s, and a handful of games and accessories. My store was pretty slow, so this would be a pretty big sale for the day and I was excited about it.

She goes to pay and hands 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 and she said just scan it anyway. So I scanned her fake credit card which clearly did not have a magnetic strip and it didn’t work—of course. She told me to just “put the numbers in” on the computer. I refused and she asked why, seemingly legitimately confused. I told her I just couldn’t. She told me she would be back with cash. I put everything back on the shelves. She did not return.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

4. Easily Caught

I used to work at a big box electronics store. This guy came in and returned a laptop, saying that the box had some old laptop in it. He was yelling and screaming that we don't know how to do business. Manager gave him a full refund.

We started to check that old laptop he brought in. It won't turn on. Looks like the motherboard was toast. We pulled the hard drive out and started checking the data. The hard drive was completely fine, with everything on it.

We started looking for the clues and found the pictures of the guy who returned the laptop. It was his old machine. We had all his info. The manager called him and said he has 15 minutes to bring the new laptop back or he is calling the police. That guy came in, dropped the laptop at the front desk. Never saw him again in the store.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

3. Making it Easier for the Cops

Worked in a bottle shop. 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. Store policy is not to confront shoplifters; that's what insurance is for.

I called the police and burnt the footage onto a DVD for them to collect. About an hour later the same guy returns with the bottles demanding a cash refund because he “purchased the wrong type.” Just as I was telling him I can't do a refund without a receipt the police walked in to collect the footage. He left with them in handcuffs.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

2. Demanding the Stolen Goods

As I was walking in for my shift, there was a car stopped right in front of the doors. Next thing I know, I'm walking up on a guy carrying about ten pairs of shoes out of their boxes as he's running out of the store at full speed and basically Superman jumped into the car. They sped off and the sales associates were all kinda staring at each other going "What just happened?"

Later on that night, dude came back wearing a pair of the shoes he stole and his hoodie still had one of our security tags on it, so he set off the alarm when he walked in. They followed him around for a bit. Eventually he made a run for the door and a loss prevention associate grabbed the hoodie on his way out, hoodie came off and dude kept running into the parking lot. We were almost at closing time anyway so they locked the doors behind him.

THEN, this mad man came back to beat on our glass doors to demand "his" hoodie back. He'd also inadvertently lost one shoe and he needed that back as well. We obviously refused and HE called the cops. They were very amused with the situation when they got there. I don't think he went to jail though.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages

1. The Nose Knows

A customer brought back a jumpsuit for a refund because it had poop in it. Apparently, it had been like that when she bought it.

It stank so bad that you could smell it through the taped up plastic bags that she had put it in. The levels of how impossible that would have been to be unnoticed by changing room staff, to then be put on the shop floor, to then be picked up by the customer, to being bought via a cashier still unnoticed.

The worst part is some idiot on the refunds counter downstairs actually accepted it and put it on top of the trolley full of other returned items for us to put back upstairs—complete with a note stapled to it that said "Warning: feces inside."

One of the bigger "What the heck" moments I've had in any job that I've worked.

Customer Scams factsGettyImages



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