How Thieves Scam A Self-Checkout System

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Self-Checkout System scams are rising, and stores are putting more eyes on the floor to ensure nothing leaves without payment.

The self-checkout system is the automated cashier in many stores across Canada, but thieves still find a way to cheat, driving up prices.

Some stores are going as far as installing in and out railing systems, receipt checkout before leaving, and security guards.

Today, I want to review how consumers are scamming the self-checkout system and the implications of these actions.

self-checkout scammers

Cheating The Automated Cashier

Should customer service workers worry about shifts in the job market with more stores introducing self-checkout systems?

I’d believe so because the more we automate, the less we will need human interaction. However, customers will always pass on technology for a traditional checkout with a cashier.

Will self-checkout systems replace jobs as technology moves forward and the crunch of cost-cutting and increased minimum wage blanket consumers and retailers?

We may see self-checkout systems pop up everywhere, even at the pharmacy.

Questions upon questions can only be answered as time goes on and not only from the customer and employee perspective but also from the companies that introduce the self-checkout system.

If keeping costs lower is the name of the game for a company, they most likely would do it, especially if that means lowered costs to the consumer. Most often, this is just a dream, but noteworthy.

Stores with the self-checkout system seem to rise in Canada, with Walmart, Home Depot, and almost every grocery store following suit.

With the rise in minimum wage topping $15 in Ontario, we hear more shops aim to offset costs by introducing the self-checkout.

Last week, Dollarama explained that they plan to trial self-checkout systems in response to the wage increase.

Giving Customers Control

It doesn’t matter where we go these days technology has allowed consumers to take the front row when it comes to ordering and cashing out.

Walk into almost any grocery store, and you’ll find self-checkout systems, virtually unheard of back in the ’70s and early 80’s.

A would-be shoplifter would more likely scam the self-checkout systems just to save money.

Sometimes the, shoplifters who can’t get their high from shop floor stealing look for alternate ways to get the product they want.

Related: Should using the self-checkout qualify you for a discount?

Self-checkout systems were introduced to consumers by David R. Humble, who invented them, also known as a semi-attended customer-activated terminal, SACAT, where customers can cash out with limited interaction, if any, with a cashier.

As of 2013, there were 191,000 self-checkout units worldwide, and the number was estimated to reach 325,000 units by 2019. David R. Humble got the idea as he stood in a long grocery checkout line in south Florida in 1984.

Self-checkout systems are meant to help the consumer take charge of their order and, in many cases, motivate faster service because of it.

Although this isn’t always the case, there will always be some customers who prefer a cashier and others who prefer the self-checkout systems.

Some customers love using the self-checkout system because they think it’s fun or something they’ve wanted to try but never worked as a cashier.

It’s a great way to test if you want to apply for a cashier job with limited customer interaction. It’s more on an as-needed basis.

A Walmart near me has a sizeable self-checkout system that seems always to be bustling with customers every time we visit.

I often wondered if customers are scamming the self-checkout system like they were back in the UK because it can happen, and it does.

Self-Checkout System Thieves Find Cheating Ways

How are these self-checkout system thieves getting away with their elaborate plans of paying less or nothing for items and not getting caught?

This is a significant question that retailers have long been trying to answer, which is why the self-checkout system has improved over the years.

With the addition of self-checkout system service desks and one employee who has eyes for every self-checkout system, they can watch what is going on.

The problem is that it can be challenging if the employee is not a trained security scanner.

When you enter a casino, security staff are trained specifically to do this for a living.

Cashiers at the grocery store have to deal with all sorts of issues.

In many cases, cashiers are away from their computers, which is when thieves can jump in and step up their game.

It sounds ridiculous, but people will do it, and it’s not just customers who struggle to make ends meet either.

When there is an opportunity to steal, it doesn’t matter how much money someone has in the bank. It’s an ethical decision.

If someone believes they can get away with something, they might try it.

What they may not consider until after the fact is the consequences.

Self-Checkout System Scammers


Some ways that would-be self-checkout system scammers skip the system are not advanced.

I read a story about a lady who admitted to photocopying bar scan codes and pasting them on less expensive products when scanning.

The Queensland Times reports 35-year-old Kylie Milner of Ipswich orchestrated a somewhat labour-intensive plot, in which she photocopied the bar-codes from 65c and 72c packets of two-minute noodles, which she then printed and glued to sticky labels.

She walked away with over $4500 of groceries from Coles and Woolworths.

What an intelligent yet ignorant idea to land someone in jail.

I’ll admit I tested the incorrect product code in the UK earlier this year out of curiosity, and sure enough, I could do this on produce.

I removed the product and started again because there was no way I’d go to jail for this scam. I’m also not sure “just a joke” would have worked.

If I could do it that easily, I know that anyone could, but this is not new, as it has happened since the introduction of this self-service system.

The stores know about it and have cameras installed and elaborate computer systems for the on-site cashier, but humans aren’t perfect.

Even cashiers make this mistake when they don’t know what produce is coming through and either ask the customer what it is or guess.

I caught errors and had to tell the cashier the product so I wasn’t charged more than I should have paid.

Then some customers lie and say the product is something else when it’s not, and the cashier believes them and keeps going.

Restrictive Self-Checkout

Having restrictive self-checkout systems with product limits may be another option to move customers through quicker.

Consider it the drive-thru grocery shopping system. Not click and collect but rather a system where customers do the work yet get it done quicker because of product amount restrictions.

This may be enticing, but not everyone wants to leap over to the self-checkout system side, especially when prices keep increasing, cashiers are losing jobs, and no one wants to do the work.

Self-Checkout System Advantages And Disadvantages


Self-checkout systems problems are equally frustrating, if not more of a time waster than simply using a cashier, but not everyone cares.

Some people would rather avoid the cashier and opt for cashing out on their own.

However, with this self-checkout system, there are pros and cons that every consumer should be aware of.

Self-Checkout System Pros

  • You’re in control, so if you move fast, you get out fast
  • There are more than one or two self-checkout systems on duty.
  • Less human interaction
  • You get to bag as you wish

Self-Checkout System Cons

  • If you get stuck behind a slow customer, you’re doomed
  • Using coupons can be a pain
  • Reduced product in most cases has to be done by the self-checkout customer service.
  • You can’t find the product you need
  • System failure
  • You only have yourself to blame if you mess it all up

Overall the self-checkout system is here to stay unless it becomes more of a financial burden for the company.

With thieves working their way through the grocery store system on and off the floor, it can be taxing, and customers end up flipping the bill for it.

During a recent Facebook discussion, a Canadian Budget Binder reader, Adeline, asked about upfront costs to purchase the self-scanner system for retailers.

CBB reader Thad gave a reasonable response about why they were suitable investments.

Yes and no. Yes they are expensive, but even if they paid $20,000 or $30,000 for them, it would save them roughly $52,000 in salaries in just the first year.

That is assuming somebody working the same cash register for about 12 hours a day, 364 days a year at about $12 an hour wage. The higher the minimum wage, the more they save.- Thad T.

Knowledge is vital, so this isn’t a post to help scammers. It’s more of an awareness post of what is going on.

Even though upfront costs are pricey for the self-checkout system, costs are quickly recouped via the reduced workforce.

Cheating and stealing can get you arrested, and it’s not worth it, so if you plan to cheat the self-checkout system, think about the consequences first.


September Grocery Game Challenge

Join in the 2017 Grocery Game Challenge (GGC) fun and post your grocery shop in the comment section of each GGC blog post.

New monthly prize: See the Grocery Game Rules

2017 Grocery Shop Results

Yearly grocery budget for two + 1 Toddler 2017: $3180 or $265/month (The above total does not include the stockpile budget of $300/year or $25/month.Points Overview (add any other sections you need to show us your savings)

  • Total Grocery Budget for this Month: $265
  • Total Grocery Budget with any carry-overs $265
  • Total Gift Cards used to date: $0
  • Total Rewards Points redeemed this week: $0
  • Total Rewards Points used to date: $0
  • PC Points Plus Earned to date: 646,000
  • Scanning Code of Practice (SCOP) to date $0
  • Shoppers Optimum: 983,000 O.M.G

Coupon Apps (add any other apps you use to save money)

  • Zweet to cash out: $18.25.
  • Checkout51 to cash out: $24.50 we cashed out, so we’re back at zero.

Our Grocery Shop This Week


  • E.D Smith Sugar-Free Syrup $3.29
  • 3 x Large eggs $1.97 each
  • Salted Butter No Name $3.97
  • Nordica Cottage Cheese $1.99
  • Astro coconut yogurt $2.99
  • Iceberg Lettuce $1.29
  • PC White Mushrooms $1.99
  • PC Broccoli Slaw $3.89-50%  $1.95
  • Bananas $0.96
  • Celery stalk $1.29
  • 4 x Yellow Zucchini $3.62-50% $1.81
  • Liquid sweetener 2 x $4.94-50% $2.50
  • 3 x English cucumbers $0.99 $2.97
  • Romaine $1.47
  • Speciality grapes reduced $0.99
  • 3 x Chicken Breakfast Sausages $5.79-50% $8.68
  • Smoked Gouda $20-50% $10
  • Asiago $8.62 on sale and a great deal for the real stuff.
  • Salami Whips $6.00

Total Out-of-pocket $ 68.58 

All totals below already have tax factored into them.

Total Out-of-pocket $ 68.58 

All totals below already have tax factored into them.

  • Total to spend this month : $265- $18.51= $246.49 (overage from August)
  • Stockpile budget 2016: $25.00/month
  • Stockpile budget used this month: $25.00
  • Total coupons used this week: $0
  • Total coupons used to date: $1
  • Total in-store discounts this week: $0
  • Total in-store discounts to date: $675.93
  • Total spent this week: $68.58
  • Total spent so far this month: $153.06
  • Total Over/Under spend this shop: Over
  • Total Over/Under spend for the month: Under
  • Total left to spend for the month: $93.43
  • Total Spent To Date 2017: (does not include stockpile budget) Jan $231.06+Feb $255.16+March ($5 budget increase) $263.60 + April $273.83+ May $257.15 + June $65.43+July $226.84+August $283.51+September $

Weekly Overview

Not too bad of a shop as we picked up some black sticker deals, a.k.a pink sticker deals and flyer deals that we took advantage of.

The Asiago cheese was pretty much half-price, so it was hard to pass the real stuff up.

With just under $100 left to spend this month, we may be just making our budget.

Coupons and Coupon Apps

Here are some great places you can find Canadian Coupons!

These are your latest Checkout 51 offers which you can use to help save money.

Are coupon apps taking over paper coupons?

If you notice I’m missing a valuable link, please message me, and I’ll add it to the savings list below.

Sign up for the Nielsen Canada Home Scan Program, and you can earn rewards points fast to redeem for products or gift cards. I did this in the UK and loved it!!

Plus, check out these other hidden areas online to get more coupons!!

If any links below don’t open properly please report them to my email address or use the comment form.

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