In 2021, a new type of crime emerged that involved the manipulation of self-checkout systems at retail stores, in a way you could have never imagined. This crime, known as “switcheroo” or “under-ringing,” involved customers swapping the bar codes of cheaper items with more expensive ones to pay a lower price at checkout. It’s also called the “banana trick”, and it’s a pain in the back for the retailer chains that just can’t stop it.
The retail industry, particularly Walmart, which had been hit hard by this crime, sought legal action against offenders. In one such case in Somerset, Kentucky, Chastity Shirley was caught red-handed at Walmart’s self-checkout by a loss-control associate, trying to steal an $80.80 children’s rug and slipcover.
Don’t Theft at the Self-Checkout – It Could Send You to Prison
However, instead of charging her with misdemeanor theft, the prosecutor persuaded a grand jury to indict Shirley for “unlawful access to a computer.” The prosecution argued that by manipulating the bar codes at the self-checkout, Shirley was tapping into the sophisticated computer system connected to it, which was a felony punishable by five to 10 years in prison. Yeah, that does not make that much sense to us, the common people, but the prosecutor thought it was correct. And he knows about law, right?
Shirley was found guilty, but her conviction was reversed by the Kentucky Court of Appeals, which stated that it would be “inherently unfair to convict somebody of a class C felony for theft of goods worth $80” and that the crime did not meet the statute’s definition of using a computer without its owner’s “effective consent.”
But, You Do Have Permission to Use the Self-Checkout Computers – But Don’t Do the Banana Trick
The appeals court reasoned that Walmart had given Shirley and other customers permission to use its self-checkout scanners to pay for merchandise. Soon, the Kentucky Supreme Court will hear arguments from Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office, which is seeking to reinstate Shirley’s conviction and support retailers in their fight against this form of crime.
The “banana trick” is a scamming technique used by some customers in supermarkets where they pretend to scan a cheaper item at the self-checkout machine, usually a banana, instead of the more expensive item they are actually purchasing. This results in the customer paying less for the item than its actual cost.
This technique can be a problem for supermarkets because it can lead to significant losses in revenue over time. If many customers use this technique regularly, the supermarket can lose a lot of money. Additionally, it can create inventory discrepancies as the items sold might not match the stock records, leading to difficulties in tracking inventory levels and making informed purchasing decisions.