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Are shoppers unfairly targeted at the Target self-checkout line?

Target is a major retailer in Florida. The company has a strong anti-theft shoplifting policy. They aggressively prosecute people who appear to steal items from the store. Nowhere is this more apparent than the self-checkout line.

Every day, innocent shoppers bypass long lines to scan a few items at a convenient self-service kiosk. The process is simple. On this particular day, a female shopper is scanning the bar code on each item before placing them in a plastic bag at the side of the scanner. Her next-door neighbor walks by and stops to chat for a minute. The woman resumes processing her items. She uses a credit card in payment when she finishes scanning her purchases. The machine prints a receipt, and the customer begins to push her shopping cart towards the exit.

Guilty until proven innocent

Before the woman takes five steps, a store security officer stops her and asks to see her receipt. Surprised, she hands the paper to him. He laboriously matches each line to an item in her shopping cart. Without any explanation, he escorts the woman to a small room in the back of the store and asks her to take a seat. She begins to panic. What is going on?

Soon, the store manager appears; the customer finds she is being held for shoplifting. He claims there was an additional item in her shopping bag that did not appear on the sales ticket. What was the item? A birthday card. The woman says she remembers scanning the card. The store manager replies that she did scan one card, but she did not scan the second card. The flustered shopper said that was not possible, because she only bought one card. The manager urges the woman to sign a paper confessing guilt, stating he will then cancel the police visit and she will be free to leave the store.

Human errors are not crimes

In reality, although no one realized it, the woman had picked up two cards that were stuck together inside the flap of an envelope. She thought it was one card. When her friend stopped by, she was in the process of scanning the card and dropped it into the bag without looking. The cards separated when they fell into the plastic bag. 

While this is a hypothetical example of how an innocent mistake can occur, errors happen every day in stores across the country. Humans make mistakes. Unfortunately, thieves have figured out how to game the self-serve checkout machines, and they use many tricks to steal items without scanning them. Target should never treat honest customers like hardened criminals when they mistakenly put an unscanned item in a bag.  

Shoppers have rights. They should never admit guilt or sign anything. The store usually cannot detain a person against her or his will. Any shopper accused of wrongdoing can immediately call an attorney. The person should wait patiently for her legal counsel to arrive and refuse to answer any questions from store personnel. Big stores are ready to prosecute anyone. It may be best to skip the self-serve checkout area in the future rather than risk a false arrest.

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