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Tales of Everyday Supermarket Self-Service Checkout Scams

Behold these stories of theft, excitement, and putting everything through as onions.

According to University of Leicester criminologists – who I am sad to announce are grasses, bad grasses, the worst of all the grasses – day-to-day theft is on the rise thanks to that most brilliant of inventions, self-service checkout machines. Unexpected item in the bagging area? Not if you straight up steal it by scanning it through as an especially heavy onion. The overwhelming feeling of the report is 'theft is bad', with supermarket losses supposedly doubling since the introduction of self-service and the advent of lowkey, easy-to-do, palm-it-off grocery theft. But we all do it. Even people who have never stolen in their life know to scan anything from the bakery as a humble bread roll. Even people who are nailed-on going to heaven have, in a moment of poverty-induced weakness, Scanned The Onion. Here some people share their #hot #tips on how to scam Tesco out of small quantities of money.


JACK, 27

I'd had maybe three pints – the magic number – before going to Sainsbury's to pick up some dinner. I was feeling confident, fearless, because of the magic pints, and when I got to the till decided to try the onion scam on a £4 pack of cod. I hit the onion button, punched "1" into the quantity bit and put my cod in the bagging area.

The red light immediately started flashing. I began to sweat. A man in a Sainsbury's polo shirt asked me why I had tried to pass off two cod fillets as a solitary onion.

"What? No I didn't – I scanned the cod," I said to the man, lying fairly obviously.

"No you didn't," he said, accurately. "You scanned an onion and then put that cod in your bag – I watched you."

"Uh sorry, did I?" I asked, for some reason. I was so hot and red. So so hot.

"Yes," he said. "Don't do it again."

"Okay," I said, and left, without any dinner.


I always end up paying more at self-service checkouts because I pick up the reduced stuff and it always scans the full-price label.


My friend got banned from a Tesco in Brighton because he kept scanning whole chickens through as one banana. Personally I just run fancy pastries through as an onion so they're not as expensive.

JIM, 28

My soul is largely pure and sin-free although, father, I have to admit that I once put a 12-pack of assorted Krispy Kremes through as a plain 12-pack of Krispy Kremes. I wanted jam and icing Krispy Kremes but I didn't want to pay for them, but I still wanted to be honest about the fact that I was buying Krispy Kremes. This saved me somewhere between £1.50 and £2. I was sweating throughout this endeavour. I am not cut out for high crime.


Krispy Kremes are the best doughnuts to emerge from the realm of baked goods. They're smooth; they're soft; they come in a range of flavours to suit every palette. They're also freaking expensive. So in my heady and golden and dry-mouthed days of getting stoned and ascending to a perpetually confused state of being every single day, my friends and I devised a procedure in which we could eat our weight in Krispy Kremes for a fifth of the price. It's simple, really. Just scan that glob of royal dough in as a normal Tesco doughnut. Way less risky than scanning a pack of mince in as a load of onions, because the weight will always be the same, and the rewards are greater. Sugar is a triumph over the blood-soaked remains of a bovine animal. It is the antidote for cotton-mouthed teenagers the world over. Plus: bonus round! Put that shit in the microwave when you get home and cooly attain the god-level of heaven.

ALED, 32

When I was at uni and had just started writing for magazines I was broke so I'd go in to get my sandwich for lunch and then roll the magazine up and put it under my arm like you do when you're walking around with a copy of the Standard. If someone asked at the checkout I could say, 'Oh shit, I forgot' and laugh it off. But no-one ever asked so I just got free music magazines.


I've always been obsessed with scamming supermarket checkouts, and it's not even a money thing. As an 11-year-old, I once sneaked a discoloured and out-of-date Boost bar into a local shop, placed it on the shelf and – an hour or so later – returned to buy it. As I handed the bar to the lady at the till she paused. Rotating its mangy packaging in the light and squeezing its spongy body, she frowned confusedly. Sniffles were chugging from my nose and I was going bright red, but the lady didn't notice. And eventually she put it through the till and I walked out beside myself with happiness. So for the next fortnight, I repeated the same thing every single day, and it just got funnier each time. Afterwards I'd be curled up on the pavement around the corner, staring at the bar and crying with laughter at the very idea that they were charging me for this hunk of debris. 13 times I bought that Boost – and it's making me laugh now.

But on to present day stuff. Every so often at lunchtime, I'll want something fancy. When that occurs, I head to my nearest Tesco, pick whatever £6 Heston Blumenthal wanker Tory snack I desire and carry it over to the reduced section. There I hold the snack flat in one hand and pick up the yellow stickered items with the other, making my arms into a set of scales. When I find something of equal weight, I do the old switcheroo: peeling the sticker off the reduced item and placing it over the bar code on the one I actually want. Scan it through at the self-service, remembering not to panic when your halloumi & rocket wrap comes up as a salsa/sour cream combo dip, and the robot doesn't know the difference. This is a classic grift sure to provide you with both thrills for when you're bored and more money for scratch cards.


VICE in no way encourages or endorses these terrible acts.

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