Saturday, April 21, 2018

Short Changed!

People will short-change store clerks and bar tenders - but bar tenders and store clerks may attempt to short-change you as well!

We were out bicycling yesterday and we stopped at the convenience store for a treat.  Ordinarily, I would have used a credit card, but I thought, "why not pay cash for a small purchase like this?" and it was an interesting experience.   The total came to $8.28 (!!!) and I handed her a ten.   The cash register had one of those machines that dispenses coin change, and she said, gesturing to the coin tray as money rolled out, "there's your change!"

I just stared at her.  I was due $1.72 in change, and the coinage came to only 72 cents, of course.

She glanced at me and said, "Oh, I guess I owe you a dollar as well!" and she opened the register and handed me a dollar bill.

It was an interesting exchange.  The place was noisy and crowded (a busload of children had just unloaded out front - what was I thinking?).   And she could claim she made an "innocent mistake" if called out on it.   But if I failed to notice, and just took the loose change, well, she could pocket a buck.   And if she could do that a few times an hour, she could effectively double her hourly wage, and of course, all of that "bonus" is tax-free, of course.

It is not the first time someone has attempted to short-change me - or actually short-changed me.  And I am sure there were other times when I was short-changed and failed to notice it.   Probably many times, in fact.   Bars are prime places for this sort of thing, as patrons are drunk and don't count their change or remember what they spent.   You wake up the next morning with a hangover and an empty wallet and wonder where it all went.   I stopped doing that nonsense fairly quickly.  Others never learn.

One of the most common scenarios I've seen is a simple one.  You hand someone a $20 and they give you change for a $10.   You point out that you handed them a $20, and they go, "oh, my bad!" and make the correct change.   Obviously this is a better deal than some petty dollar scam, as they net $10 on the transaction.

Mark taught me, and I always follow this when paying by cash, to announce in a clear voice what bill you are presenting.   "That will be $5.75!" the clerk announces, and I reply, "Out of a $20" as I hand her the bill, face up, in full view of the security camera.  It makes it harder for them to argue that you handed them a ten later on.

And fortunately, most stores have security cameras - focused on the cashier, not you.   Because while robberies and the like are not uncommon, it is far more common for the person behind the counter to be the one stealing.   Either they are not recording cash transactions, or are short-changing the customers.

Of course, one way to avoid this problem is to use a credit or debit card - there is no change involved.  But even then, I have seen servers play games with numbers.   Often they will present a bill that is not itemized, but merely the total on the charge receipt.   This makes it hard to figure out what it is they are charging you for.  But I am not sure whether they can personally profit from this, as charged bills don't generate cash they can take out of the till.

But speaking of which, I never did get a receipt from that store clerk, and in retrospect, I am not sure how the total came to $8.28 even at inflated tourist prices here.   Next time, I will be more careful - but of course, stopping at the convenience store isn't something I do very often.

It is funny, but I just don't use cash very much anymore.   Some folks go to an ATM every day, it seems, taking out small amounts of cash for spending.   I go maybe once every few months (one bank we do business with will lock out  your ATM card if it is not used every three months - a pain in the ass, as you have to reset the card at the bank and have a new PIN issued!) to get some spending cash.

And when that lady handed me that change, I realized what a PITA it is to have coinage clinking around in your pocket.  Coins I will have to take home, sort, and roll up and eventually take to the bank to deposit - because I am never going to remember to take the coins with me to spend, as I don't use cash anymore.

The video above illustrates how grifters can short-change store clerks and bar tenders with clever manipulation.  If you get a job that involves handling money with the public, just watch out for these folks who want to do deals like this "I want to get rid of some dollar bills" or some such nonsense.   It usually is just a means of confusing the cashier and setting up one of these short-change deals.   As the guy illustrates in the video, do each transaction separately, and avoid handing money back and forth.   Mark reports that someone tried this on him once at the store, and he was able to shut it down by keeping each transaction separate - and refusing to make change for the customer ("we're not a bank!" he told him).

I suppose it is a small-time con, short-changing people.  But oddly enough, people often get more pissed off about small things like this, than they do in losing hundreds or thousands of dollars in con-job investments or raw deals on leased cars.