If you’re a cashier at a convenience store and two customers paying in large bills start asking for change at lightning-fast speed, you may be the target of a quick-change scam. Police typically advise that these scams occur on a daily basis and are conducted by individuals or teams of two or more people. Sometimes, a team of grifters will strike a slew of small businesses within the same area. Training, policies and procedures can help cashiers stop or prevent quick-change scams.
The Mechanics of the Scam
An example of a quick-change con typically begins with paying for a small item with a large bill, such as buying a beverage costing $1.20 with a $100 bill. While the cashier is counting the change, the con distracts the cashier by chatting about a random subject. Then, the con changes his mind and asks to pay for the item with a smaller bill. He hands the cashier a $5 bill and asks for the $100 bill back. The cashier forgets that he's already made change for the $100 and hands the original $100 bill back to the con artist. He then makes change for the $5 bill. The thief pockets the $98.20 in change from the first transaction as well as the $3.80 in change from the second transaction. He has paid for the beverage two times but only used the store's money.
Quick-change con artists target new or inexperienced salespeople who are trying to deliver fast customer service. They also target young employees who may not be as aggressive in managing the confusion of multiple transactions and are wary of slowing down a line of customers. The types of establishments typically victimized by fast-cash scams can include fast-food joints, gas stations, pharmacies, hotels and even ice cream stores.
Recognizing the Con Job
Employers can train salespeople about how to spot a quick change scam. For example, employees should be wary of customers trying to purchase a low-cost item with a large bill. Employees should request that the customer use a smaller bill for the transaction. If the customer doesn't have smaller bill, employees can direct them to the nearest bank to break the large bill into smaller denominations. Small businesses can post signs which explicitly state that they only do transactions with bills no larger than $20. Employees should be warned of customers requesting multiple transactions and of duos that may be working together to distract them.
Stopping the Scam
Police advise that cashiers should place large bills on top of the cash register, the till or on the counter in full view. Cashiers shouldn't put a large bill in the cash register until they've completed one transaction. Also, the cashier should count aloud the change that has been made. If the customer starts to barrage them with requests for multiple transactions, they should purposefully slow the transaction process down and manage each transaction separately. If the customer begins to bully or intimidate the cashier and the confusion escalates, the cashier should stop the transaction completely, close the register and call for the manager.
Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.