Stores Worried About Employees Using Gift Cards To Steal

Gift cards may encourage spending, but they also make it easy for employees to steal, writes the New York Times.

Among the variations of such crimes, cashiers often do fake refunds of merchandise and then, with the amount refunded, use their registers to electronically fill gift cards, which they take. Or sometimes when shoppers buy gift cards, cashiers give them blank cards and then divert the shoppers’ money onto cards for themselves.

“Shoplifters? Studies Say Keep an Eye on Workers “ [New York Times]


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  1. ShruggingGalt says:

    Yep yep yep…

    Although another issue is cashier involvement: buy a bunch of gift cards with a credit card, do a chargeback 60 days later so the video is gone.

  2. Jamie All Over says:

    It always amazes me how dumb retail employees can be. I remember when I worked at Target, we had this happen a number of times. It’s even funnier when you realize that these people are doing it under their own employee logins.

    • aka_mich says:

      Yep, it’s really not that hard to track anymore. At Circuit City we had a kid price adjusting games down and pocketing the difference on the gift card. Except it showed up on about 3 different reports, didn’t take a genius to figure out what was going on.

    • tbax929 says:

      When I worked at Mervyn’s way back when, we had a cashier who was stealing customers’ credit card numbers and passing them on to friends. It didn’t take long for the po po to trace the whole ring back to her. She ended up in the pokey; not sure if she’s still there. But she was majoring in Accounting, so I think that conviction may have hurt her job prospects in the future. What an idiot.

      • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

        This is so not on topic, but I have my students write me a little thing at the beginning of the semester about their goals and stuff, and one student wrote, “I have always dreamed of being a cop and still hope I can be one, but I think my eleven felony convictions mean that probably won’t happen.” HE WAS NINETEEN. I was like, “Holy shit, dude.”

  3. VeeKaChu says:

    “Whatever method employees use to steal, their take is more substantial than that of the average shoplifter. Mr. Bamfield’s global study of retail theft found that larcenous employees averaged $1,890 in theft, compared with $438 for shoplifters…. Officials at Wal-Mart, Target, Macy’s and Best Buy declined to discuss employee theft, a subject many companies find embarrassing…”

    Yes, pretend it’s not happening. Just keep checking those receipts and implying that the problem is your crooked customers, and everything will be fine.

    • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

      But one of the primary reasons for checking receipts is to clamp down on the “sweethearting”. If you’re walking out with a computer and assorted groceries and your receipt totals about $40… Well, they’re probably going to be as interested in unleashing their goons on the cashier as they are on you.

    • ShruggingGalt says:

      I’m also guessing they don’t want to let people know that their software is outdated; we’re in the process of getting our registers updated, and from there we’ll be able to finally get live transactional data from our system to a SQL system, where supervisors can be alerted 24-7 if clerks change prices, run credit cards without swiping, etc….whatever we can program our alert query system to look for.

  4. sp00nix says:

    When i worked at the big box there were 7 cashiers in cahoots with the gift card scams. One day all 7 were scheduled to work at the same time, struck odd to me to have that many scheduled to work at that slow time. Then cops strolled in from both doors and took them all away.

  5. D0rk says:

    How does that work?

    Employee logs into register.
    Employee adds $50 to card and activates it.
    Register now expects there to be $50 in either cash or debit/credit.
    End of day, numbers don’t add up.
    Am I missing something?

    • makaze says:

      they do a return which the register expects to give money out, so they put it on a gift card instead of taking the cash :)

  6. jayde_drag0n says:

    you know, “Retail experts say they can only estimate what portion of their theft losses can be traced to employees, to shoplifting and to vendors, but they view their own store workers as the leading culprits. The national study, based on information obtained from 106 retail chains that responded to a questionnaire, said employees were responsible for 43 percent of the stores’ unexplained losses, versus 36 percent for shoplifting.” you are ESTIMATING.. *cough* thats guessing folks and to the facts that its employees more than customers who steal.. and THAN with that guess you turn around and give it a percent.. you can’t give a GUESS an acxcurate percentage… until you can prove it.. i ball BS on your statistics

  7. sprocket79 says:

    I swear a Target cashier stole a giftcard from me. I bought a bunch of stuff and a giftcard for a friend of mine. I was a little distracted and didn’t notice that I wasn’t handed the giftcard back. I left and figured it out within an hour. I called the store and was told that the giftcard had already been spent and there was nothing they could do. It wasn’t until I flat out accused the cashier and told them that they have 50 cameras in the check-out area and they better put them to good use that they gave me another giftcard. So yeah, partially my fault for not noticing, but an honest cashier would have made sure that I got everything, and if she didn’t notice either, she should have at least put my giftcard away instead of spending it herself!

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      Also, you receipt will have the giftcard number on it. In fact, on the gift card itself, it tells you all you need is the receipt to replace a stolen/lost/damaged gift card. Take this from someone who collects Target Gift Cards for a hobby.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        reminds me, do you collect blank used up ones? because i don’t think you have the “penguins in an igloo” one that my parents gave me recently

      • sprocket79 says:

        I had the receipt, the problem was that the giftcard was already spent – which was proven by the number on the receipt. Target didn’t want to give me my money at all because they basically said I was responsible for being forgetful. I can see their point, but I reported it within an hour. I still think it was the cashier and if they had taken the time to actually investigate it, they would probably save themselves a lot more money in the future because if this cashier did it to me, she was probably stealing from both the company and other customers. Once I pointed out that most shrink is caused by employees rather than customers, they realized that I wasn’t an idiot, nor was I going to let it go.

      • oloranya says:

        depends on the store. where I work if you loose the card you’re SOL, as the receipt only shows the last 4 digits of the gift card number.

    • viper2000 says:

      “So yeah, partially my fault for not noticing, but an honest cashier would have made sure that I got everything, and if she didn’t notice either, she should have at least put my giftcard away instead of spending it herself!”

      my reply is probably not on topic to the conversation, but you are right about what an honest cashier would do.
      A month back, I was doing some grocery shopping at my local wally-world, after I checked out, I forgot to grab 1 bag that had a turkey breast and misc other stuff in it. The cashier asked her other customers to wait, and brought the bag, with maybe 10-20 dollars worth of grocerys in it, out to me, chasing me down almost to my car. That is what a great cashier does.

  8. JulesNoctambule says:

    I used to work at a spa, and one of the front desk guys rigged our gift certificate system to scam thousands of dollars of products and services for himself, his mother and his sister. I was off the day the police came and arrested him, but I’m told it was epically dramatic. Did the owner change the system afterward? Of course not; that would have required effort.

  9. mamacat49 says:

    I learned my lesson: KEEP THE RECEIPT! I’ve had gift cards not activated properly (and are therefore worthless). I’ve gone so far as to get a gift card, then walk right over to customer service (or a stand alone price checker thing) to check the balance. Twice, I’ve had to have them “reload” it. Keep your receipts, people. They are your only means of any type of “proof.”

  10. ryan89 says:

    When I worked at Best Buy, there was a cashier who was fired (maybe prosecuted?) for stealing customer’s gift cards. There was a promotion going on where if the customer would receive $XX in gift cards for every $XXX spent. The cashier would activate a gift card, then give the customer a different, unactivated card and pocket the real one. She was caught after she purchased items with her employee discount and the gift cards. Every day there was a report of employee purchases with gift cards and the morning admin was required to research where the gift cards came from.

  11. Alter_ego says:

    I don’t really get why employees steal. Yeah, I guess an extra couple of hundred would be nice right now, but what about all the money you won’t make in lost job prospects in the future once you have a criminal record. You certainly aren’t going to steal enough to retire on, and companies don’t really look favorably on hiring people who were arrested for stealing from their previous employer.

    • RandomHookup says:

      There’s usually a lot of rationalization going on —

      * My boss is taking advantage of me
      * I’m not paid enough
      * The customers are getting away with ripping us off
      * I’m smarter than the system

    • Outrun1986 says:

      I would blame it on low wages, high prices and an intense desire to have what your friends have even if you cannot afford it. But mostly the first one, low wages, I bet most retail employees feel they aren’t being paid enough for what they have to do, so they steal. Or stealing to get revenge on the retail company you work for, if your treated like crap in your job then your more likely to want revenge, that revenge comes in the form of stealing gift cards etc. If you have ever done it before, retail is a really hard job, especially when you have to work till midnight then be back at the store at 5am to work the black friday sale the next day. I can see where the motivation comes from, but that is no excuse really as I worked retail myself and never stole anything.

      • LunaMakesThings says:

        Bull. Low wages don’t make people want to steal from their companies. What about white collar crime? High paid executives who embezzle hundreds of thousands, or even millions? Laziness + greed = human nature, no matter the salary.

      • frodolives35 says:

        Or maybe they are just amoral scumbags who want to get over. Do you think thats the end of it. No we pay higher prices for everything because of theives. Higher prices at the registar , for insurance, in taxes etc. People who steal from work steal and commit fraud other places also.

    • SpazMonkey says:

      I’ve worked retail, and they do NOT pay you enough to put up with all the crap that you’re expected to. On top of that, you’re constantly assigned duties that aren’t in your job description, such as cleaning the bathroom after a dirty diaper falls on the floor, leaving baby poop smeared everywhere. Because in a cost-cutting measure, the daytime janitorial staff has been laid off.

      That said, I never stole. Didn’t need to. Working at Toys R Us, you were allowed to open toys to demo them for customers. Essentially, you’d open a toy (RC Car, action figures, legos, whatever) play with it for the customers, and package it up after an hour or so. It would then be marked down at least 50% (as an opened item) and you could use your employee discount after your shift is over to buy it for maybe 40% (likely less) of the shelf price.

    • Garbanzo says:

      “One thing I’ve learned being in prison…a lot of the guys in here don’t have well thought-out plans.”

    • Parnassus says:

      I have a feeling that many companies don’t prosecute since it means sending staff to court and so on. They’ll simply fire the worker leaving the person free to steal from another company. This might even be considered a win situation. Their profits rise without the worker skimming money and the worker’s new employer, who may be a rival company, loses.

  12. RandomHookup says:

    One scam I’ve heard shoppers talk about happens mostly in grocery stores. Some deals will give out high dollar Catalina coupons (those long thin coupon strips) and the cashier will simply not provide the coupon to the customer. They can be $5-20 at times or free groceries, so it can add up. Lots of shoppers don’t know about the deals, so they assume the stuff is just an IRL version of spam.

    • nancypants says:

      My company has remedied this by basically making us provide our receipt when we earned the coupon in order to use it for employee purchases.

      Of course there are holes in this, but if for some reason the coupon doesn’t get to the customer it is to go into the trash. If we keep them, we’re in deep doodoo because they check the cameras in real time, too. I personally know of two employees who were canned for that business.

      • West Coast Secessionist says:

        They need to start putting the Catalina coupon printer over on the customer side of the checkout island so I can grab them myself.

        I feel kinda bad for companies that pay good money to put their coupons on there, when in some stores they end up in the trash because the cashiers never remember them (or worse, they pocket them like the prior commenter said).

  13. DD_838 says:

    People generally don’t care much about the job they are ripping off. $8h/r jobs are a dime a dozen (or at least they used to be) so people tend not to care too much if they get fired. Plus, if you know what your doing there is a good chance you won’t get caught.

    As for calling the cops, the employer has to have firm evidence, such as the act being caught on video and even then that doesn’t guarantee a conviction.

    As for not being able to find a new job, most people won’t use a place they have been fired from as a reference regardless of it being due to theft. Also, in MA (where I live) an employer can not prevent you from obtaining new employment by giving a bad reference (even if what they are saying is true). All an employer can say is that you worked there and the dates that you worked there.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Do you have a reference to the law you mention? I’ve done hundreds of reference checks in Mass. and elsewhere and I’ve never heard of it (beyond urban legend). The truth is almost always your protection. Lots of companies limit their employees from saying anything, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the law.

      • duskglow says:

        I’m not sure if it’s the law or not, but if the prospective employee finds out about a bad reference, it could open up the company to litigation. Most companies don’t want to deal with that regardless.

  14. ColoradoShark says:

    That must be what happened years ago when one of my kids got a Target gift card from a relative. It was on a birthday and she received several cards. When she went to spend this particular one, she was told it was not activated.

    My wife called Target about it and not only were they completely unhelpful, they essentially called her a thief. We don’t shop at Target for that reason. The CSRs could have phrased things differently and we would be only disappointed, not outraged at the treatment.

  15. Sure I could agree with you, but then we'd BOTH be wrong. says:

    See, this is why those “receipt checkers” are useless. This post just goes to show the point that the problem is not someone leaving the store with a DVD they “may or may not have paid for” but actually insider EMPLOYEE theft..

    Last week, I was at Best Buy and made a purchase, which qualified me for a $25 gift card. I made the purchase from an agent on the floor, from one of the cashier kiosks… He took the card and went to another register to “activate it” — He could EASILY have swapped cards and given me a blank (he didn’t)

    • ryan89 says:

      Something still smells fishy about that. If the deal was in their computer, they should have been able to activate the card at the register in the same transaction. The card would just show $0.00 on the receipt for the tendered amount and $25.00 for the loaded amount.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      I agree with you, employee theft in retail is a much larger problem than customer theft, customer theft is usually petty, and most don’t even go for large items. The customer will just go for the CD/Videogame/DVD that is on the racks (usually $20 or less), not saying there aren’t those that go for large items but its more rare than small items. Employee theft can happen anywhere along the route of the product getting to the store and could be a very, very large scale operation. Breaking it up takes a lot of work and you might be out hundreds of employees let alone what is stolen which is definitely disruptive to a business. Though you might not have a hard time filling those positions again in today’s economy, the employees would still have to be trained.

    • locakitty says:

      the receipt checkers are also useless in that we walked out with a cart full of stuff and they only checked one receipt. i had my receipt in my pocket. apparently the huge bag of cat food that was not on the receipt was less important than the razor scooter and bike helmet. even though the cat food was more than the scooter

  16. Slottsherre says:

    Would be easy to solve. I work for a Swedish grocery store and we carry gift certificate cards. All refunds are logged, and you need a special key to be able to do a refund, no matter the value. It is easy to spot refunds fraud here, since you must have name, address, telephone number and a signature, and the original receipt details (date, cashier, receipt number etc) filled in before making a refund. You might cheat on one or two and put some change in you pocket, but it’s not worth it. You will get exposed pretty soon. Fired and a police charge against you.

  17. u1itn0w2day says:

    I noticed a lot of retailers have a lot of employees that don’t pay attention to details including managers. I guess they are frequently too busy to do things like match physicals returns against the number of returns on the register. I guess that’s why many stores make you return something at customer service. I think Target’s that way.

    I’ve heard stories from store managers telling me they caught employees doing 3-500 a shift in fake gift card returns then sell a 200 dollar gift card for 50 bucks on the street. An Office Depot manager told me they had trouble with customers returning computer printers and cartridges with their used ones in it. She had employees break the seal on new lookin boxes to make sure the new one was in there.