Desperate Times Call For Scammy Measures

, , , , | Working | January 1, 2021

I am working at a major electronic retailer as a loss prevention agent. This mostly consists of standing at the front of the store, watching the cameras, and checking receipts.

It is late October when my manager pulls me into the back office.

Manager: “I’m concerned. Corporate is being flooded with calls from people complaining about fraudulent credit card purchases and I need you to investigate. You will get additional hours to work in the office. I need this done ASAP.”

The holidays are coming up, sales to be made, yadda yadda.

Well, I do like a challenge. I start looking at the complaints and the transactions associated with them. It turns out the complaints are all the same.

A few months ago, around July, the company was pushing magazine subscriptions at the register. You’d come up with your Item Of Choice, and during the checkout, you’d receive a high-pressure sales pitch for three free months of a magazine, or magazines, of your choice.

At the end of every pay period, the associate with the most signups would get a $25 gift card to the store. If the same associate won three weeks in a row, they’d earn a pizza party.

Of course, being a retail environment, this was a catch-twenty-two for employees. The store was pushing these hard. It wasn’t enough that they merely tried to upsell these magazines. They HAD to sell the subscriptions!

We had meetings for cashiers where managers would parade back and forth, trying to claim that it was vital to the future of the company! And they kept shoving it down our throats how any good, loyal, employee would be able to sell these easily! And then, it was not-so-subtly “implied” that simply doing the minimum wasn’t good enough. If you didn’t sell enough, your hours would get docked. And at the end of the year, the lowest sellers would simply be let go and replaced by any of the holiday hires that did better. “No” was not an acceptable answer from a customer. If they said no, then you were doing it wrong. Cashiers had to turn the no into a yes. It didn’t matter how. I’m sure you can already see where this is going.

So, naturally, each and every one of these fraudulent charges revolved around the magazine subscriptions. People were saying they said no and then were charged three months later for magazines, even though they never actually received anything. As the months went by, more and more people had complaints.

One Golden Associate was responsible for the first month. She was the weekly winner and won three pizza parties in a row. Eventually, every other front-end associate started doing it, as well. One week, they’d have ten subscriptions; the next, they’d have between fifty to sixty. Each.

In the beginning, the managers were ecstatic. We were the number one store in the country for subscriptions. Our store was killing it! How could this be a bad thing? Well, it wasn’t… right up until complaints of fraud started pouring in.

We start monitoring the front end with cameras and catch several employees on camera doing it. On top of that, corporate discovers that one of the geniuses is just sending the magazines to her house on someone else’s dime. Apparently, no one on the magazine’s end noticed or cared that dozens of the same magazine were going to the same address but were paid for by multiple different cards. We use that as leverage to get that particular employee to talk. We have all the proof we need for corporate.

I also discover another nice little tidbit of evidence that I hand over to the store manager. The Grinch’s smile is far less terrifying than the smile the store manager gets on her face when she sees it.

Here’s where this catch-twenty-two causes even more trouble for our store: my investigation concludes, evidence is sent in, and the brown stuff hits the fan. I get pulled into the office again with the entire management team.

Store Manager: “Corporate has reviewed the evidence you gathered along with corporate loss prevention. The entire front end staff is getting fired. Today. Only one associate wasn’t involved with this scam; some new kid who started about two weeks ago. Everyone else is getting fired immediately, in order to avoid lawsuits.”

The entire management team is aghast. Black Friday is ten days away. Training newbies and throwing them into the Black Friday crucible would mean that the management team would be running around putting out more fires than usual. The front end management starts protesting until [Store Manager] drops my little bombshell.

You see, the ENTIRE management team is guilty of time theft. Instead of walking the floor and doing the tasks they were supposed to be doing, they have been sitting in the break room all day, every day. They only come out when they are explicitly called, and even then, it sometimes takes two or three calls before they come shuffling out of the break room, handle the problem, and then shuffle right back in.

I think the management is going to be fired, too, but the store manager has a different sort of punishment in mind. After making it clear that she knows they are guilty of time theft, she also tells them that they are also partially at fault for not paying attention.

Store Manager: “If our associates were that successful, you all should have found out why and been using it to teach other stores. You should have caught the fraud. So! Because you all committed time theft and allowed the store to come under fire for fraud, you now owe time to the company. Because we are losing cashiers and need to hire more, management will now work doubles this weekend: one regular shift and one shift strictly for hiring. Oh, and instead of ten-hour shifts for everyone on Black Friday, the entire staff must work sixteen hours: eight in your departments, eight on register. Anyone who refuses will be fired.”

It’s dead silent.

[Store Manager] thanked me for my work and asked me to stay late to help escort people out. I was kind of stuck there anyway, so I might as well. Every cashier we had was called in and fired. Word got out and some of them just didn’t come in until they were threatened with police involvement. There were tears and curses, and one person was physically restrained. It wasn’t pretty.

The management was scrambling to hire people and train them with less than a week of training.

Black Friday was the biggest fiasco I’d ever seen. Untrained employees were on registers, making mistakes. Old employees were simply leaving after their shifts in their departments and skipping the shifts on the registers; they weren’t part of the fraud AND they were more than willing to walk away from the job rather than be punished for the sins of employees who were already gone. Lines circled the store and took an hour or more to get to the cashiers themselves. Management was running around like the sky was falling. It was glorious to watch, in a way. 

Luckily, loss prevention wasn’t allowed to touch money unless directly involved in an investigation, so none of my team got saddled with register duty.

I got to watch the fiasco and shake my head. If ONLY certain decisions involving magazines had NOT been made by management… Oh, well.

This story is part of our Best Of January 2021 roundup!

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