22 of the Most Desperate Scams Customers Tried Pulling on Retail Workers

Retail workers share the most eye-poppingly embarrassing attempts at scamming a store that customers have ever pulled.

Mustafa Gatollari - Author

Apr. 26 2020, Updated 10:50 p.m. ET


Desperate people resort to some pretty desperate measures when it comes to saving a buck. And the thing about desperation is that the acts you commit out of it are usually downright humiliating and absolutely shameless.

Thankfully, I've been fortunate enough to have never had to resort to some type of retail thievery or scheming in order to make a buck, but some people, for whatever reason, do.

And any retailer's loss prevention department will tell you that it's almost impossible to catch every thief in the act. But there are also plenty of times these crooks get caught red-handed in some pretty embarrassing situations. This recent AskReddit thread had retail workers share some of their most embarrassing experiences in dealing with desperate customers trying to pull one over on them, and they're super cringeworthy.

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1. Never forget this shamelessness.

mowing the grass picture id
Source: istock
September 12, 2001. USA. A guy in Spartanburg South Carolina calls and says that his weed trimmer was in the twin towers in NYC the day before and got destroyed by terrorists. And demanded I replace it under warranty.

- Nightmare_Gerbil

2. This probably worked for him in the past.

ink catridge isolated on white background picture id
Source: istock
A favorite moment from my old retail days. Customer walks into store and grabs two HP ink cartridges off the ink wall. Walks to the register with an old receipt and says "I want to return these."
Yeah... he was that $#!*ing stupid. I saw him walk in, and the cartridges were still in the security cases.
I called my manager and said "The Brinks guy is pulling up" (our code for "got a criminal customer"). He came running up to his office and dialed the cops real quick, then he walked up to the register. A few minutes pass while he is pretending to do a fake return, and the cops come walking in.
We point at the guy, and out come the handcuffs. $#!*ing moron.

- binary_savior

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3. Copper stealer.

coils of copper in close up picture id
Source: istock
Years ago, I worked at a small hardware store where they were constantly getting huge rolls of copper wire stolen. One day this guy and his girlfriend come in to return a roll. I was a few months in on the returns counter. They had no receipt and when I scanned the item for the return, it was only doing the price per foot. I couldn’t figure out how to get the sku or the price for the whole roll. Called the manager and he comes out and right away knows there’s no way these people bought a roll and returned it. So he asks when they bought it and they say two weeks ago (the common response) and my manager tells them “oh really because the last time we sold an entire roll was over 3 months ago” the guy starts to get brave and tells him “so you’re saying I stole it?!” And my manager says yes. They end up leaving and left the roll behind. Before they leave the store the guy says, “I’m coming back and bringing the cops.” Manager says “Go ahead, that way you can explain to them how you stole the roll.”

- celesticaxxz

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4. This 'scrip alteration.

antibiotic medical drug capsule falling from bottle on orange picture id
Source: istock
Someone tried to alter their Adderall script so they would get a year's supply. (Doctors cannot write more than a three month supply by law). We took the script and called the doctor to report the fraud. The patient got a black mark in his medical record in the pharmacy and the doctor's office. Now every script that is sent over comes with a disclaimer stating this person has tried to alter scripts.

- businesscasual87

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5. Returning a chicken.

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Source: istock
A woman came in, grabbed an herb-roasted rotisserie chicken, moseyed over to the casual seating, ate 85% of it with her bare hands, then brought the carcass to customer service and tried to return it.

- Perschnickity

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6. Obviously fake credit card.

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Source: istock
I used to work a game store a little more than 10 years ago. Once had a woman come in dressed fairly trendy and ask for 2 PlayStation Portables (PSP), 2 Xbox 360s, and a handful of games and accessories. My store was pretty slow so this would be a pretty big sale for the day and I was excited about it.
She goes to pay and hands me a credit card which was not laminated and appeared to be printed out on a home color printer. I told her it wouldn’t work and she said just scan it anyway. So I scanned her fake credit card which clearly did not have a magnetic strip and it didn’t work (of course). She told me to just “put the numbers in” on the computer. I refused and she asked why, seemingly legitimately confused. I told her I just couldn’t.
She told me she would be back with cash. I put everything back on the shelves. She did not return.

- RudgerZ

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7. Phone replacement.

smartphone with a broken screen picture id
Source: istock
Sold a guy a phone years ago when I worked for a wireless carrier. Spent an hour getting all his information transferred and set up his new phone. He comes in the next day with a shattered screen. Apparently he didn’t remember that I was the rep who helped him and proceeded to tell me that is how it looked when he left the store. Needless to say, the phone was not replaced.

- Valhallan1984

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8. Beetroot bamboozle.

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Source: istock
Had a customer return a vacuum cleaner once, my supervisor did the return thankfully. The box went back on the floor unchecked. The next customer who wanted to buy it checked it out before they went to the register. The whole  $#!* ing thing had been replaced with a catering size tin of beetroot.

- DaisyDee85

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9. The owner's daughter.

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Source: istock
We don’t deliver the pizzas we make, it’s carryout only. Had a customer call and have a long/angry conversation with me because I wouldn’t deliver to her. She proceeds to say (a couple times) “You must be new here. I know the owner personally,” to which I responded “Well I’m the owner's daughter and we don’t deliver”.

- schweinerneer13

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10. Box swap.

Just yesterday I had a 'till tapper'/'quick change artist' try to money-shuffle me for what would've been a grand sum of $5. Pissed him off when I wouldn't play his game.
Next best was someone calling wanting to know if we had spare empty boxes for Xbox consoles, because he 'wanted to prank his kid and give him an empty box.' I know very well he wanted to try to stuff the box with who knows what, and attempt a return. Of course, the folks at customer service check such boxes for actual product, and match serials to those on the box.

- Euchre

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11. A sadder Adderall story.

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Source: istock
A guy comes in to fill his son's Adderall script. Guy is super twitchy and son is chill as could be. For all controls, we are supposed to run a report that shows every where in the state they have filled any. Of course the report is a mess, multiple pharmacies, multiple scripts, multiple doctors, all the red flags. To top it off, an Adderall script within that week had been filled so we really couldn't fill this one.
Dad comes back, we tell him that we can't fill it and dad starts going on about how his wife must have filled it but they need some for today, blah blah blah. We decline and his last words to us are "My son needs them for a birthday he has to go to today. Can't you help?"
No dude we cant help. You're clearly taking your sons pills, get help and stop using your son to get high on prescription drugs.

- moogula1992

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12. Laptop swap.

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Source: istock
I used to work at Best Buy. This guy came in and returned a laptop saying that the box had some old laptop in it. He was yelling and screaming that we don't know how to do business. Manager gave him full refund. We started to check that old laptop he brought in. It won't turn on. Looks like the motherboard was toast. We pulled the hard drive out and started checking the data. Hard drive was completely fine with everything on it. We started looking for the clues and found the pictures of the guy who returned the laptop. It was his old machine. We had all his info. Manager called him and said he has 15 mins to bring the new laptop back or he is calling police. That guy came in, dropped the laptop at front desk. Never saw him again in the store

- vick7171

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13. The difference between a Wii and a Gamecube.

Years ago I worked at a Walmart and this guy comes in trying to return his "Wii" that doesn't work. "I just bought this for my kids last week and it's already broken but they won't take it back because I lost my receipt."
The "Wii" in question was the most beat-up and disgusting-looking Gamecube I have ever seen, like he found it in a landfill or something. I should also point out that I wasn't working the return desk or even a cashier. I was stocking the food department. Turns out he was trying to talk every employee in the store into either giving him a refund or a Wii.

- Pineapple_Pistol

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14. Poopy jumpsuit.

man in uniform holding a black garbage bag picture id
Source: istock
A customer brought back a jumpsuit for a refund because it had  $#!*  in it. Apparently it had been like that when she bought it.
It stank so bad that you could smell it through the taped up plastic bags that she had put it in. The levels of how impossible that would have been to be unnoticed by changing room staff, to then be put on the shop floor, to then be picked up by the customer, to being bought via a cashier still unnoticed.
The worst part is some idiot on the refunds counter downstairs actually accepted it and put it on top of the trolley full of other returned items for us to put back upstairs - complete with a note stapled to it that said "Warning: Faeces inside".
One of the [stranger] moments I've had in any job that I've worked.

- MateriaBubbles

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15. Boxing Day and the can of tuna at Sephora.

Source: getty
At my old job, they used to have sales pretty often and would also give out coupons for specific dates. For Boxing Day, they had a 30% off sale and we'd also given out coupons that would start the next day. Lady comes in on Boxing Day and we worked out that she'd get more of a deal if she used the coupon instead, so I offered to hold her items for her. I explicitly told her that she wouldn't be able to get the 30% off and she decided to use the coupon instead.
She comes back the next day, goes to cash to purchase her items and gets angry because they wouldn't give her both the 30% off and let her use the coupon. She told the cashier that the person she'd spoken to the day before had told her she could do that, sees me, and says "it was that girl who told me!"
I went to cash to speak to her (I was a keyholder at the time) and her story changed about three times through the whole thing. First she said that I told her she could combine the discounts, then she said that I never told her she couldn't combine the discounts, and then finally it was "Well I don't understand why I'm not able to do this." Another manager came over to help sort it out and as I walked away I heard her saying that I was a liar.
Now, I work at Sephora and we always get people trying to return fake products. My favorite one was when someone returned a face mask but had put a can of tuna in the box instead of the actual face mask.

- ShadyLady709Q49

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16. Pack of cigarettes and security footage.

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Source: istock
"I'd like to return this unopened pack of cigarettes I purchased earlier today at your establishment." Might be paraphrasing a little bit.
I open the store every day, hadn't seen this dude once that day. Looked at his cigarettes, it's a brand we don't carry. Asked him for a receipt to "confirm" he purchased them here, but he obviously didn't have one.
"That's fine! If you can just tell me what time you were in here today I can look it up on our cameras to confirm your purchase."
My God, the backpedaling and stuttering. I grabbed his cigarette pack and fake examined them.
"Wait a moment sir, are you sure you purchased these at this store? I don't think we carry this brand." He took the cigarettes back, came up with something about his brother must have yada yada and then he walked out.
A tobacco store in town sells some of the brands we carry at a much cheaper price, so people like to try and do returns at our store to make a quick buck. We generally don't take any returns on tobacco, but this guy didn't even scope out his mark.

- CoolWaveDave

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17. Returning shoes that aren't there.

Source: istock
One of my first jobs in high school was working at Payless.
I had a customer come in once claiming she needed to make a return. A perfectly normal looking woman, likely late 50s early 60s, she looked like a teacher or something.
I asked for her receipt, and she informed me she didn't have it. Ok — technically I can't refund them that way, but my manager was a bit more liberal and if the shoes were in perfect condition and in their original box, we might have been able to arrange an exchange. I then asked if she could put the shoes on the counter.
She told me she didn't have the shoes either.
At this point, I was as confused as you, dear reader. Yes — she tried to come in and convince me to "return" a pair of shoes that aren't physically present, and essentially open the register and give her cash out of it.
Dumbstruck, I told her "Uh - we can't do that." She proceeded to get enraged and grabbed a pair of stilettos and threw them at me before stomping out.

- anon194029

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18. Corporate always sides with customers.

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Source: istock
I had a customer come to purchase some stuff, and they had found a coupon from 3 years ago on Google Images for 50% off whole purchase. I told her I can't do that, and the only one we had going at the time was not viable for her purchase. She yelled stupid loud, stormed out cursing, and I felt good. She emailed corporate, and I got in trouble for making her upset...

- PoolAddict41

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19. World Cup bet fiasco.

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Source: istock
I was working in a betting shop during the 2014 Football World Cup.
We had this one really awful customer, must have been in his 80s and always wildly inappropriate (asking what colour my underwear was, did I need someone to keep me warm tonight etc) but I couldn't do anything as the higher ups wanted to squeeze money from him.
Anyway, the night before the final match he comes in and tells me he wants to bet on Germany to win. I spent about ten minutes explaining to him that as it was the final he could no longer have a broad bet like that, instead he'd have to choose between a 90 minute win or winning in extra time, on penalties etc. I showed him the odds for all of the different bets and he ended up choosing the 90 minute win, I put the bet through for him and off he went into the night to be creepy somewhere else.
The match plays out and of course Germany wins in extra time. The next day Unnamed Creepy Dude comes in grinning from ear to ear and telling me how he's a winner. Oh boy. Again I have to explain to him that his bet isn't valid as he predicted they'd win before 90 minutes, and they hadn't. Dude flies into a rage about how I'm a money grabbing slut who's jealous of his riches and I have to pay him out or he'll call the police. I tell him to leave my store or I'll call them myself, he complies.
A few days later I come back from my lunch break to see him ranting at my cashier, I ask what the problem is and he throws me his bet slip for the world cup, only now he's written 'extra time' on it in pen and is trying to get my less experienced staff member to pay him out. I tell him that when we scan bets the computer takes an image of it, obviously the slip he has given to us has been altered as it doesn't match what's on the screen (I even turned the computer to show him) and that counts as fraud. Again, he leaves spouting nonsense about how women shouldn't be working anyway because they can't count or read.
Next week I get told I have to go to a meeting as I've had a complaint filed against me by a customer. The day of the meeting rolls around and I'm greeted by my area manager, security director and CREEPY DUDE. He had phoned the customer line and said I'd refused to pay his bet and taken the money for myself. We ended up bringing up the CCTV of the night he originally placed the bet, complete with audio, to prove without a shadow of doubt that he was in the wrong. Dude won't accept this and starts screaming that we're all thieves, we faked the video, and threatening to get a lawyer. Security director escorts him off the premises and he is banned from all of our chains indefinitely.
The kicker is, if his bet had won it would have been a whopping £55.

- Alessandruh

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20. Free iPod courtesy of Bill Gates.

Source: getty
Idiot comes in with a coupon for a free iPod. Fine print says "Guaranteed and payable by Bill Gates." I asked why would Bill Gates guarantee and Apple product. Idiot left. 

- coydog33

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21. The pajama discount.

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Source: istock
The store was open until midnight the two last nights of the financial year calendar. Apparently the store thought someone might come in at 11:59 the last chance they had to deck out their entire office with new laptops and chairs and  $#!* . After about 9pm the store was pretty much a complete ghost town. By 10pm-11pm the store was the cleanest it ever was since it was built.
On this one night, the phone rang at about 11:30pm. The guy wanted to know if we were still open because he wanted to buy something specific. It turned out we had it in stock and he told me - several times - that he was going to get out of his pajamas, get dressed and come down to the store. I was, like, "Sure. The item will be at the front counter whenever you're here to collect it."
So he turns up and tells me again that he had to get out of his pajamas, get dressed and come down to the store to pick up this item. It was about 11:45pm by this point and so I just told him how much it was going to cost and then he asked for a discount. I said "Why?" he said "For being your last customer of the evening!"
I told him no, there's no reason for giving out that kind of a discount and besides, we weren't closed yet. There might be other customers, you know. He might not have been the last one that night and besides, it costs what it costs. He told me again that he had to get out of his pajamas, get dressed and come to the store to buy this item.
He paid full price for all his troubles.

- Mr_A

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22. Pockets full of drumsticks.

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Source: istock
Oh boy, back in highschool when I worked part time at a KFC, there was this one fat man who would come in, order a 2-piece quarter pack, and then claim we forgot his chicken. Like, when we turned around to fetch his drink at the end of the order, he would open the box, take out the chicken pieces and hide them in his pockets. Hot chicken. Right in his pockets.
I got so fed up with everyone just giving him extra chicken all the time that I demanded he turned out his pockets one day when he tried to pull it and WOW LO AND BEHOLD this guy has his pockets full of drum sticks.

- ampmetaphene

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