Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Be Alert! (We need more Lerts)

After many years in the hospitality, franchising and sales business I have become quite attuned to watching for potential theft.  It's not that I think the worst of people, it comes after watching franchisees try and duck royalties, or bartenders pad their own pockets.  Here's a few scams I observed in businesses over the recent holiday season that could spell trouble for you and the business if left unchecked by management.

  • The old "cash drawer open" trick you'll often see in bars, coffee shops and especially in variety stores.  The clerk "rings in" the purchase so an amount shows on the screen (this works best if it's only one item and you're paying cash), announces the total and then calculates your change manually.  He then deletes, or voids the purchase.  
    • Result: money in the clerk's pocket, not the business'.  
    • Signs of this scam:  Cash drawer left open between purchases.
    • Victim:  The franchise organization which collects a royalty on sales, the bar/restaurant/coffee shop owner, you - because prices creep up over time to cover such losses. You the taxpayer - since the shortfall in sales tax has to come from somewhere.  I have observed this time and again everywhere from Mac's Milk to Second Cup.  
    • How you can help?  Ask for a receipt.  The clerk has to complete the sale and then if it is voided later there is a record of it.  It's up to management, head office or CRA to find it from there.
  • The old "do you have a loyalty card?" scam.  I saw this in a major drug store chain, where the clerk had already entered her own loyalty card number manually before she even started ringing in my purchase.  
    • Result:  Had I not produced my own card, the credit for the sale would have gone to her, or a family member's account.
    • Signs of this scam:  You have to be paying attention, but watch the screen and see if there is already a card number entered before you even begin, or if her fingers start dancing across the keyboard between customers.  Another sure sign was that when I produced a card and she had to delete the information already entered.
    • Victim:  You.  If someone asks if you have a loyalty card and then doesn't offer to get you one right away, even if they're not scamming they are wasting an opportunity to create future business and save you money.  
    • How can you help?  This one you have to call them on right away, which you can do politely but firmly.
  • The old "gift card" scam.  The clerk pretends to use the gift card at the cash register, and then tosses it into her garbage can.  If you're not alert, you then pay full price on the "remaining" balance, and she retrieves the unused card later from the garbage.  I saw this effectively done on a $200 grocery bill with a $25 gift card - easy to not notice with amounts that large.
    • Result: clerk retrieves card from the garbage after you've gone and gives it to a friend or family member to use
    • Signs of this scam:  The clerk makes no mention of the gift card.  Typically she should ask you if you'd like to reload it, or if you'd like the card back.  Throwing it away without discussion is a big red flag.
    • Victim:  You.  This one relies on you not to pay attention to the cash register screen and not to check your receipt before you leave the store.  Even if you do, and catch the "error", she innocently apologizes and pulls the card out of the garbage, thus further maintaining the illusion she wasn't scamming in the first place. 
    • How can you help?  Pay attention and ask questions. 
  • The old "taxi credit card" scam, where the taxi driver uses his own iPhone app to run your credit card instead of the system in the cab, to avoid paying 3% or higher on the credit card transaction.  
    • Victim:   You or your company, if you're expensing the ride.  The iPhone account comes with a $4 or higher transaction fee which you pay.
    • How can  you help?  Unfortunately in many cities cabs are not yet fully regulated in this regard, so you have to be aware and challenge the cabbie.  The other variation on this is when the cabbie claims his credit card processor isn't working and insists that you pay cash, just to avoid the credit card transaction fee.  I feel for the difficult position these cabbies are in, but that shouldn't come at your expense.  The system needs an overhaul.
    • Other potential solution?  Use Uber to book your ride.  It's an on-line app that will get you a black car (limo) for about the price of a cab, is fully automated and your credit card is automatically charged complete with tip, and you get an emailed, detailed invoice.
These are just 4 separate occurrences that I observed in the month of December alone.  In each of these it is possible to alert management without accusing anyone - and indeed it may all be a misunderstanding or a genuine error.  However, if there has been a pattern with the employee in question you are helping to resolve the issue.

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