Cash register scams can be initiated by a dishonest employee, or can catch an honest employee completely off-guard. Either way, procedures for preventing dishonesty and cash register fraud -- and for catching it in the event it does happen -- are vital business controls.

Catching cash register scams is easier once you understand what you’re looking for. Some of the most common cash register scams that employees and customers commit involve till tapping, shortchanging and change-raising.

Till Tapping

Till tapping is a customer-initiated cash register scam that usually involves two customers. One distracts the cashier and the other “taps” the till -- steals the money -- while the cashier isn’t looking. It often starts with a customer who waits until a cashier is in the middle of ringing up purchases and then asks the cashier to make change. The accomplice stands behind the decoy, both to block other customers from witnessing the theft and to remove money from the register while the cashier is assisting the decoy.

Catching Till Tappers

According to the Illinois State Police, till tapping is one of the easiest cash register scams to prevent and to catch. To prevent it, create business rules that do not allow cashiers to make change except during the course of a purchase, and require that large bills be stored under the cash drawer. Conduct cash drops regularly, and even more frequently during especially busy times.

To catch a till tapping scam, train cashiers to watch for customers who not only ask for change but who also may pretend to speak poor English or be a deaf-mute. Another warning sign is a customer who holds up an article of clothing or positions himself in a way that keeps nearby customers from witnessing the attempted theft.

Shortchanging and Change-raising

Shortchanging and change raising are similar cash register scams. The difference is that with shortchanging, the cashier shorts the customers for part of the change they are due, while change-raising involves a customer who makes several confusing change requests that result in the cashier giving back more change than the person is entitled to.

To catch a shortchanging scam, watch for cashiers who hand over change in a lump sum instead of counting it out. Another warning sign is bills out of place in the cash drawer.

A change raising scam usually involves a low-priced item for which a customer pays with a large bill. After receiving the correct change, the customer then begins the scam by asking to trade the change for a larger bill. This scam often is quite easy to spot, as it involves a post-sale transaction.

Protecting Your Business

Internal cash register controls and employee training are vital to protecting your business. Make sure every employee knows that you not only are aware of common cash register scams, but also how they work. Implement strong internal controls. These include

  • Separate cash drawers for each cashier
  • Pre-shift and post-shift cash balancing procedures
  • Frequent cash drops
  • A note at every cash register reminding customers to ask for a receipt