The Watermelon Scam

Ever since I was 16 and was able to drive, I’ve been going grocery shopping by myself. When I was in high school, my mom would send me to Fred Meyers with a list, a paper-clipped cluster of coupons and a blank check (along with the knowledge that she could count on me not to violate the trust of that signed check). Portland, being what it was, and for the most part, what it still is, I never had a problem filling out her check and handing it over to the checker.

Tonight, I went down to the South Philly ShopRite, to fill in some of the holes in my food supply that were still empty after my stop at Trader Joe’s yesterday. One of the skills I developed in those early years of grocery shopping was the ability to keep a running estimate of how much the items in my cart will cost. I don’t add up numbers each time I place something in the cart, but somehow, I just know within a couple of dollars where I am. Tonight, when I pulled my cart up to the checkstand, I had a number in my head of what I thought my bill was going to come to. I didn’t pay much attention while the clerk rang me up, focusing on bagging up my items instead, as she had made it very clear to me that I was her last customer of the night.

When she gave me my total, I was a little shocked because it was about ten dollars more that I thought I was going to pay. I’d never been quite that off, and it made me think I was losing my touch. I stopped my cart just outside the exit doors, to give my receipt a glance, to see if I was really off, or if there was a problem. I ran my eyes down the list, and a charge for $7.99 jumped out at me. It was marked WTMLN SDLS, and I couldn’t figure out what I had picked out that had cost $7.99 or what the hell WTMLN SDLS was.

I pushed my cart back around on the entrance doors and headed to customer service. There was a young woman standing at the counter. I explained to her that I had no idea what that item was, and that I didn’t think I had purchased anything for $7.99. She told me that it was for a Seedless Watermelon. I pointed at my cart and said, “but I didn’t buy a watermelon!” Without another word, she began to process the refund. Just as silently, I pulled a penny from my wallet, so that she could give me $8. She shoved a slip of paper across the counter and asked me to sign, and then she dropped the money into my hands.

Walking back to my car, I was twitching with mixed emotions. I was really happy that I had gone back and stood up for myself. I also felt a little violated, although I still can’t know for sure whether it was a scam or a mistake. I had been trying to do the clerk a favor by bagging my own groceries, and in return, she quite possibly charges me extra because I wasn’t paying attention to the scanner screen. The manner in which the customer service woman acted after I showed her my receipt made me think that this was not the first time that something like this had happened, because she didn’t question my story at all.  I still can’t figure out how the checker would have benefitted from charging me for a watermelon I didn’t actually have.
It was also nice to know that my grocery cart estimation skills aren’t at all rusty, because without the fraudulent watermelon, I was within $2 of my inital guess.

0 thoughts on “The Watermelon Scam

  1. Ellen

    Weird – quite weird. If it wasn’t an “extra item” it may have been an incorrect produce key, but who types in an extra produce key for no reason? It’s not like she gets the $?

  2. Jamie

    You are adorable, I have missed you! You have the ability to make just about everything ten times more fun than it has any right to be. What a gift…

  3. Marisa

    Ellen, I can’t figure out how the checker would have benefitted from it either, but maybe she was planning on taking the watermelon home?

    Thanks Jamie! I miss you too! Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow night (with mac and cheese!).

  4. trace

    Hate to sound like the conspiracy nut (I’m really not) but it’s not too hard for the store to have the computer pop in an extra charge on say one of every 10 customers. That would yield them a huge amount of cash each month and I would guess that most people (you and I aren’t in this group) never look at their reciepts so the store would totally get away with it.

    Take a look around. Companies are throwing extra charges (and fees) on our bills and checks all the time lately. Pays to be vigilant..And also it at least helps to be able to estimate as you have. That’s key.

  5. Scott

    Could it be, like Ellen said, a mistyped produce key? Perhaps you bought some other produce item, the cashier typed in the wrong code and BAH! Watermelon charge.

    If that is the case, you walked away with some free produce and the scammee becomes the scammer. 😉

  6. Marisa

    I double-checked my receipt last night, and everything else I bought was on there, so there was no free produce. It’s just weird.

  7. Sandra

    See I’m not so pessimistic about such things. I would’ve thought the checker just keyed something in wrong. I always looks over my ticket before leaving the store especially had I not been able to see everything the checker rang up. I like to watch everything she rings up, so I can see the prices as the pop on the screen.

    Good for you for getting your $$ back. I’ve done the exact thing on occasion over the years and never been questioned by customer service at all.


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