The first time I strolled away from the self-checkout lane with stolen loot, it was a total accident. The next hundred times were not.

I started this journey of grocery store kleptomania as many people do: as an innocent, upstanding citizen. Then one day, a sincere mistake with a defective self-checkout machine and a “kill me now, I hate my job” sales associate left me with a complimentary sirloin steak. That free meat made me hungrier for more.

Cheating self-checkout is a pretty guiltless misdeed for most shoppers. These aren’t the type of people stuffing fancy pastries in their pockets and shoving raw shrimp down their underpants.

They come into the store with the best intentions, and at the end of their shopping experience, disappointedly realize there are hardly any employees ringing up groceries. Instead, the shopper has to do all the work of the cashier, because the store wants to cut costs, and can’t be bothered to employ real people.

This shopper might think, “if you can’t afford to pay your cashiers, maybe I can’t afford to pay my groceries.”

Empowered by the rationalization of scamming a morally-corrupt corporation — along with the ease and the thrill of scoring some epic savings — I became a master of stealing from self-checkout. The techniques are simple enough, with risk of getting caught pretty minimal if all the right precautions are taken. Thankfully, automation makes shoplifting a pleasantly streamlined process.


That stupid scale doesn’t know the difference between a pound of ground beef ($3.99/lb) and a pound of filet mignon ($21.99/lb). Put the steak on the scale, look up and enter the code for some cheaper variety, and proceed to ball on a budget.

For added badass points, try ringing up the most dirt-cheap item you can find. Premium beef looks nothing like bananas ($0.49/lb), but if the attendant isn’t paying attention, exploit their negligence and maximize your savings.


Scan an item with the barcode facing up, or the barcode covered by your hand. Toss it into a bag on the floor or a bag in your cart. Alternatively, you can toss the item into the bag as you’re removing it from the scale.

No one wants to trigger that unpleasant “unexpected item” alert in the bagging area. If you do, rest assured that grocery store scales are obnoxiously over-sensitive, and will go haywire over the weight of a stray hair. Most employees know this, and will scan their card to override the alert without any intention of inspecting your bags.


Leave the most expensive items — like the cheeses and meats for your fancy-as-fuck charcuterie board — on the very bottom of the cart, and use large items like a briefcase, a baby carrier or reusable bags to obscure the view of the bottom of the cart from above.

There’s no need to try any ring-up trickery if you simply pretend you didn’t see the covered items in your cart. If an associate points out an unscanned item, you’ve got plausible deniability, so just play dumb.


Replacing employees with self-checkout lanes creates a legal complication for grocery stores — it’s a lot harder to prove shoplifting if they can’t prove intent. A scheme to steal is pretty obvious if you’re caught shoving crab legs down your panties, but if you “forget” to scan something, that unintentional theft isn’t a crime.

Expert self-checkout swipers often pay for the majority of their stuff, exclude top-dollar items and use the complicated technology to create doubt about their intentions. An innocent-looking cut and run is the key to a clean getaway.

[cover photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash]