WALMART and Kroger shoppers that are caught swapping the barcodes of items at the self-checkout risk arrest and could even face jail time.
The tactic, known as a “switcheroo”, involves customers peeling the sticker off a cheap product and putting it over the pricing label of something more expensive.
Customers have resorted to the strategy in a desperate bid to save money on their groceries.
But, shoppers that are caught risk a jail sentence.
Chasity Shirley, 34, faced up to 10 years behind bars after she swapped the barcodes of a toothbrush holder and a child’s rug and slipover at a store in Kentucky, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
She was convicted on a charge of “unlawful access to a computer”.
Typical shoplifting crimes for items less than $500 carry just a $250 fine and up to 90 days in jail, according to state law.
But prosecutors and Walmart had argued that when Shirley swapped barcodes at the self-checkout, she was unlawfully accessing the store’s computer system.
Unlawful access to a computer is a Class C felony punishable by five to 10 years in prison.
But the Court of Appeals argued Shirley and other Walmart customers have permission to use the self-checkout when in-store.
Last week, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that Shirley should not face a felony or such a lengthy sentence.
The decision is in agreement with the Kentucky Court of Appeals which unanimously stated that the conviction was “inherently unfair”
Shirley may now get a directed verdict that will see the conviction dismissed.
Retailers such as Walmart and Kroger have also coined phrases such as “the pass around” and the “banana trick”.
The “pass around” involves shoppers simply not scanning a particular item.
And, a “banana trick” is where customers scan an expensive item with a code for a cheaper item.
Criminologists have warned that shoppers may turn into “part-time thieves” whenever they use the self-checkout.
Adam Beck told CBC Canada that shoppers are not going into stores with the intent of stealing.
He said: “They’re just taking the opportunity that they are presented with at these machines.”
And, Barbara Staib, of the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, claimed shoppers are lured by a feeling of anonymity.
Kroger is among retailers that have taken action in a bid to clamp down on self-checkout-related thefts.
The retailer has teamed up with the Irish AI company Everseen, rolling out technology designed to prevent “skip scans”.
Developers revealed the new AI-powered checkouts will give shoppers a “gentle nudge” if they make an unintentional error while scanning their groceries.
The Visual AI device captures video and flags errors that customers make at the self-checkout.
Chris McCarrick, a senior manager of asset protection, solutions, and technology at Kroger, said: “Now, if customers make an error when scanning, the system will give them a gentle nudge to get things back on track.”
He described it as a “win-win situation” as workers’ jobs are being made easier.
But, the widespread use of technology in the retail sector has escalated fears that customers are carrying out the duties of cashiers in what experts have described as “shadow work”.
Author Craig Lambert explained in his 2015 book “Shadow Work: The Unpaid, Unseen Jobs That Fill Your Day” that the activity “includes all the unpaid tasks we do on behalf of businesses and organizations.”
He claimed it has “stealthily” slipped into people’s day-to-day lives.
He said: “Most of us do not realize how much of it we are already doing, even as we pump our own gas, scan, and bag our own groceries, execute our own stock trades, and build our own unassembled furniture.”