Everyone knows you should always count your change whenever you handle a cash transaction, right? I know that. But once, I forget.
Some years ago my wife wanted to attend a large hobby show at the downtown convention center of a nearby city. We decided to go, taking our children and my wife’s mother. We left early in the morning and arrived after a couple hour’s drive. It was a huge affair with big crowds and a long line to buy tickets. I knew that the tickets would be a bit over over $100, so I had come prepared with some $100 bills.
After standing in line for at least a half hour, I told the cashier how many tickets I wanted. She told me how much I owed. I gave her two 100-dollar bills and took my change when she handed it to me. I stepped away and put the change into my wallet. Why didn’t I count it in front of her? Maybe I wanted to get in to see the show ASAP. Maybe I didn’t want to keep my wife and family waiting. Maybe I didn’t want to slow down the line and make the next customer wait for me. I don’t recall exactly, but maybe the cashier was already starting to ask the next customer what he needed. As I put my change into my wallet, I had an unnerving feeling that something wasn’t right. I counted the change and immediately discovered it was exactly $20 short. It was very clear that I had been shortchanged. The only cash that had been in my wallet before I bought the tickets was all in $100 bills. The only bills that weren’t $100’s didn’t add up to the amount of change that I should have gotten.
I turned around and walked back to the ticket window, having to cut in line in front of several dozen people to do so. As soon as I did, I saw that the cashier whom I had dealt with wasn’t there. She had been replaced by another cashier. I explained what happened, asked what had happened to the cashier who had been there less than a minute earlier, said I wanted my $20 … and soon saw that I wasn’t going to get anywhere. The cashier who shortchanged me $20 was gone. Maybe it was all an honest mistake, an accident, and just a coincidence that the cashier went off duty just after I was out $20, but what are the chances of that? Seems more likely that the cashier saw her opportunity to rob me and did exactly that.
I could have sought out the manager, but what good would that have done? Even if I had been able to confront the cashier, it would be a he-said-she-said situation. I could demand that they count all the money in the cash drawer and see if that amount was $20 over what should have been there, but what if the cashier had already pocketed the money? I don’t think I could have her searched. And what if she did have $20; she could always say it was hers. In the meantime, my wife and family were waiting to get in to see the show. Did I want to give up a half hour or more of our one day to see the show just to have a chance, no guarantee, of getting back my $20? It’s easy to imagine that the cashier had all of this figured out as soon as she saw me and my money. Basically, in the sense that I could have prevented the whole thing from happening if I had just counted the money right in front of the clerk as soon as she had given it to me, it was my fault. Live and learn.
That dishonest cashier could easily get more by shortchanging a few customers than she would earn from working the whole day. If she shortchanged many customers, she might have left work when the day was done with a nice handful of cash. I doubt she would declare it on her tax return.
Be wise and learn from my mistake instead of making your own. Always focus on your finances, concentrate on your cash, and count your change in front of the cashier before taking it out of the cashier’s sight.
It might also be a good idea to clearly state how much money you’re giving the cashier as you hand it over. After the cashier says how much you owe, you say something like “out of twenty” or “here’s one hundred”, which makes it clear that you know how much money you’re giving the cashier and does a little something to force the cashier to acknowledge the fact. This shows that you know how much change you should be getting, in case the cashier, if confronted, might try to insist that you paid with a $10 bill and not a $20, or whatever. If you want to be really careful, you can take a look at the serial number of the bill(s) you’re paying with and quickly memorize the last 3 or 4 digits. Then, if the cashier says you paid with some other denomination, you have something that proves the bill in the cashier’s drawer is the one you paid with.
Amazingly, my scam story has a happy ending. At the end of the day, as the convention center was closing, the workers in a concession stand that sold frozen lemonade and huge pretzels were throwing everything that hadn’t sold into the garbage. This caught my eye and as I looked for a moment, the worker said, “You want this? Go ahead, take all you want!” Frozen lemonade and pretzels were just the thing we needed for the ride home, and servings of each for six people were worth more than the money I lost earlier that morning.