Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Closest I've Come to Witnessing a Gas Station Robbery

Melanie and I enjoy the occasional non-fuel-related visit to Circle K, where we treat ourselves (most often) to a fountain drink. Within the last week or so, I've been to the closest Circle K twice, and I am beginning to think that at least one of the employees is running some sort of scam. On the first of my two visits, I paid with a $5 bill and some change, which should have allowed me to get exactly three dollars back. Just after I walked away from the register, I had the feeling that the cashier had only given me two dollars. Unfortunately, I already had a few $1 bills, so I couldn't tell from looking at my stash of cash whether or not I had been short changed. (I had chosen to break down the $5 bill rather than deplete my resources of $1 bills, which I sometimes find useful for vending machine purchases at school.) Worse yet, I wasn't 100% confident that I had been short changed, I just had the feeling I might have been. I turned around and asked the cashier if she had only given me two dollars. She said had given me three. “OK,” I said, still feeling uncertain, and I left. I figured a $1 loss, if it had occurred, wasn't the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

A few days later, I returned to the same Circle K. This time, I had a coupon for $1 off the purchase of two bottles of Mountain Dew Voltage (Mountain Dew's delectable new raspberry-flavored variation). As I approached the cashier, I heard some brief exchange between the cashier and the customer before me. I heard something about four cents and being out of pennies, and the customer walked away saying something like, “Don't worry about it.” It was then my turn to pay. I put down the bottles of Dew and the coupon, and the cashier rang it up. “$1.56,” she said. As I gathered my dollar and three quarters, the cashier commented on what a great deal I was getting with the coupon. I agreed. She put the money I had given her in the register and, without another word, dropped a dime and a nickel into my waiting palm. I knew I was supposed to get nineteen cents in change, but even if I hadn't been aware of that fact, the cash register itself was displaying that I should receive nineteen cents in change. Accordingly, I stared blankly at the cashier.

After a moment of silence between us, the cashier said, “We're out of pennies.”

“So you can't give me a nickel?” I asked.

“No,” she said, with rehearsed regret.

Just then, the customer behind me in line leaned over my shoulder. I figured he was about to tell me to let it go and stop making everyone wait (the line was getting long), but he was actually on my side. “You can't do that!” he said. “You gotta go get this guy his change!”

“Didn't you owe the last lady four cents?” I asked.

“Yeah, but she was okay with it,” responded the cashier.

“So,” I continued, “you could give me a nickel and it would all balance out in the end.”

Presumably because she didn't want to give me one extra penny (although she was, in essence, asking that I give Circle K four extra pennies), she then told me that she could give me four pennies, but she'd have to get it out of the till. I assumed this must be some complicated, relatively time-consuming endeavor, seeing as how she hadn't just done this in the first place. I assumed further that she was trying to discourage me from getting my four cents by telling me this. “Whichever you want to do,” I said.

This is where I get truly irked. The cashier then moved what I would guess was literally about one-and-a-half feet to her left and immediately came back with two rolls of pennies. It all happened so fast, I didn't even see what she had to do in order to get the pennies. It was like they were just sitting there all along. She pulled four pennies out of their plastic covering and handed them over. “Thanks,” I said, and I walked out the door.

Now, I can't say that this is really part of a scam, but it sure seems like it could be. Looking back, I almost wonder if she wasn't setting me up by commenting on what a great deal the coupon was, as if to preempt any possible complaints I could have over a few measly pennies. So I think maybe it really is a scam. You'd probably get too many repeat customers to keep it up for long, but in theory, you could supplement your income quite nicely by taking just a couple of pennies from every customer that passes through the door during your shift. People pay with credit and debit cards a lot, but there are probably enough people coming and going to average a couple of pennies per person. Let's say you average 200 customers during your shift. (That sounds like a lot, but in the brief couple of minutes I was in the store, there were probably close to 10 customers.) Averaging two pennies per customer, you've got an extra four dollars per shift you can shove in your pocket. Five shifts a week, that's twenty bucks. In a month, that's $80. That's your cell phone with some fancy options, or your cable bill, or something substantial. Not too shabby. And, for all I know, you could really bring in double that amount on this whole penny scam.

I felt really irritated about this and have thought about calling the store and informing a manager about it. The problem is, nobody wants to take the time to fight over pennies, and this is what makes this a perfect scam. If I were the manager, I would want to know about it. I wouldn't want my lazy employee not to take two steps to the left and get pennies when we've run out of them in the register drawer. What do my readers think I should do? Not make a fuss? That's how these scams thrive!

If you're wondering, I don't know if this was the same cashier whom I suspected of short changing me a few days earlier, but it sure didn't help me feel good about the earlier event. Regardless of who the employee is the next time I go, I'm going to be a lot more careful at this Circle K in the future. That's for darn sure.


  1. Well, I probably would never go back there, but I would call the manager on the phone. It is quite clever. Be sure to keep you eye on your credit cards. It might be best to never use them here. There are all kinds of tricks they can play to get your number, like taking a picture of it with a 'hidden' cel phone.
    It really makes me angry that you have this to deal with anything like this.....good luck.

  2. Perhaps it's the hormones screaming, but I am SO tired of things like this! I know, I know, it's only 4 cents, but really, it's YOUR 4 cents and your math skills here were amazing. Look at how it adds up!!!! I think you should let the manager know... I hope they would be smart enough to follow your logic and want to know.

  3. It's principle dude. If someone were going around giving people paper cuts, would it be okay because they don't bleed? No. Assault is assault and theft is theft.
    If the employees are truly just lazy, then just as much reason for them to be told on. It IS only four cents-they can take two steps for that.