Am I in the wrong or is this something I should complain about?
June 17, 2014 10:07 PM   Subscribe

Today I was shopping at Walmart and was accused of coupon fraud and stealing merchandise while using valid manufacturer's coupons. I feel as though the way I was treated was unacceptable, but I'm not sure if I'm the one in the wrong or not.

My sister and I recently discovered that many of our acquaintances were using coupons at Walmart similar to the people on the show "Extreme Couponing". We are both college students working full time so we wanted to try and save a few pennies. We came across some coupons that when scanned showed "$3 off any item". According to Walmart's coupon policy you can use as many coupons as you'd like and we had been given permission to use these coupons during previous trips to the store.

Today, we went to Walmart and made multiple transactions using these coupons without any associate telling us that we were violating the coupon policy. Two associates even came to ask about the coupons and asked if we had any extra for their own personal use. A manager showed up part of the way through our third transaction and asked to see our coupons and told us that we weren't able to use them. We were fine with that - we had no idea that they were against the coupon policy because we had used them quite a few times before. We told her we would cancel our transaction and that it wasn't a problem at all and we were sorry for breaking the rules. She called over a man who she identified as a security officer to see what we were doing.

This man was dressed in shorts and a tee shirt without a name tag and without any identification. He accused us of theft, identified himself as an "officer", flashed a badge, and said that he was going to take us to jail if we didn't return all of our purchases immediately. He then backtracked and threatened to call the police because we were committing coupon fraud. He took our envelope of coupons and money and said we had to return every item we had purchased before he left the store or we would be arrested. Not wanting any trouble we immediately told him, of course, we would cooperate because we never had any intention of doing anything wrong. Our mom called us and asked what was going on and he took my sister's phone out of her hand and began to speak to our mother. He then walked out of the store with her phone and left us at the registers.

After about 10 minutes, we decided to try and find him because he had my sister's cell phone and it was making her nervous. He was standing in front of the store talking loudly to our mother on the phone telling her we were using the coupons to buy drugs (we had one bottle of ibuprofen). We stood by and when he got off the phone he told us we were to follow him to our car for him to take all of the purchases we had previously made. These items had already been paid for and we had receipts for all of them. He told us to pop the trunk and he opened it and removed every bag inside. He then required us to open the back doors and almost took purchases we had made at another store until we could find the receipts for them. After he checked the back seat, he opened our front car door and checked the front seat himself. While taking the items from our car he was talking on his personal cell phone which made me really uncomfortable because he told someone he was "at work, dealing with these couponers".

After removing the items from our car, we had to go back into the store with him to get our refund. He would only refund us for the items we had receipts for and didn't give us time to find them all. We went into the store with $40 and came back out with $23. He would not give us our coupons back and we never saw the envelope of coupons and money again.

Both my sister and I were absolutely humiliated by this whole experience. We absolutely would not have used these coupons if anyone had told us it was against the rules or coupon fraud. All of the coupons scanned and were valid coupons clipped from the newspaper, none were copies and we never scanned them twice. We were not given back the receipts from our transactions and no receipt for our refund. During the entire process we were never told anyone's name and we were both required to go into the parking lot with a strange man to our car (my sister is 5' 3" and I am 5' 1") which made us uncomfortable. I don't have a problem with returning the items - that's not what I am so upset about. I am upset about losing money and being treated like a thief when I paid for the items I had and was using valid coupons. I feel like I was treated badly by store employees, but if I am truly in the wrong I don't want to complain. Is this something I should speak to Walmart's customer service about?
posted by anonymous to Shopping (37 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry.

Two options spring to mind: 1) Talk to the store manager, with a detailed complaint, ask for the other money back, and see what happens. (I would not pursue this option, but up to you.) 2) Talk to a lawyer about false arrest and whether you have a civil lawsuit. I am not telling you whether you have a civil claim, and I am not your lawyer, but this is something that could potentially be something worth pursuing.
posted by Happydaz at 10:11 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go to the police and file a report.
posted by jbenben at 10:11 PM on June 17, 2014 [87 favorites]

Pure insanity! I am not a complainer as a general rule, but the harassment you endured would have me screaming from the rooftops. Complain. Loudly.
posted by cecic at 10:14 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

That guy stole from you. File a report.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:15 PM on June 17, 2014 [39 favorites]

Wow. You are definitely not in the wrong. This is pretty outrageous. Do you know anyone in the local press? This seems like the kind of thing that a local reporter with a pro-consumer bent would love to expose.
posted by town of cats at 10:15 PM on June 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

The store workers who asked for copies of your coupons were in on it, btw.

They can kick you out of the store, but no, they can't search your vehicle or take your personal belongings (ie - your cash.)

I would not talk to anyone at Walmart without legal representation. Period.

Did you get the "officer's" name? Could he have been an off duty cop?

In general, it is illegal to impersonate a police officer.

What happened to you was not unusual, but it's not totally alright, either.

You really aught to clarify what the official coupon policy is, just for your own peace of mind and information.
posted by jbenben at 10:16 PM on June 17, 2014 [14 favorites]

Is this something I should speak to Walmart's customer service about?

I think this is your only question. With respect to this question, I think that Walmart customer service probably won't do much about the incident, because:
  1. You have no evidence any of this occurred.
  2. You are not the sort of customer Walmart is much interested in. You aren't making the store any money; in general, coupons cost more to redeem than the profit the store would make on the item.
  3. If Walmart acknowledged this incident, they would be acknowledging what could be construed as criminal activity, specifically taking your coupons (your property until you give them to the store) and your money.
As a more general comment, you could consider taking this to the police. I think the actions of the store manager and store guard are questionable at best, and illegal at worst. Again, I would be prepared for the police to do nothing, as it would be your word against Walmart's. However, if the store has had previous incidents like this in the past, the police may notice a pattern and do something about it.

As an even more general comment, you seem to be too willing to accept the authority of others and not willing to stand your ground. The store guard has no authority beyond calling the police. You use terms like "required us to", which is odd, because the store guard can't really "require you" to do anything. You need to learn to say "no". I'm not going to justify his actions - it sounds like he was acting like an entitled asshole. However, I am going to say that anyone can ask you to do whatever they want, and if you comply with those requests, then it's a lot harder to say they were in the wrong. In general, the only people that can force you to do anything are police officers. If the store guard was actually in the right (they probably weren't), they could call the police and the police would tell you to do what the store guard wants. This is not to excuse the security guard's action, but more an explanation for why the security guard acted the way they did. People are much more compliant if the security guard feigns authority. The way to respond to that is not to acknowledge the security guard's actions.
posted by saeculorum at 10:19 PM on June 17, 2014 [29 favorites]


I'm not in the same country as you, so take that into account, but - I would most certainly be contacting Walmart's head office. And the police. And possibly the press, depending on how the first two things played out.

They were completely unprofessional (at the very least) in the way they handled it, and I feel for you.
posted by Salamander at 10:19 PM on June 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

Talk to a lawyer. Tell them all of these facts. A lawyer will advise you on what to do next.

Do not talk to the local news or the store. Talk to a lawyer first and potentially the cops second - but talk to a lawyer first thing tomorrow.
posted by sockermom at 10:19 PM on June 17, 2014 [23 favorites]

You are not in the wrong. You should definitely escalate this. I'm sorry you had to go through this.
posted by studioaudience at 10:24 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'll generalize from knowledge I have about the Loss Prevention practices at businesses other than Wal-Mart, including the Loss Prevention practices at other big box retailers:

What you're describing is insane and it's hard to imagine that Wal-Mart would countenance this kind of behavior by its Loss Prevention personnel or by its store management. That's nuts. You absolutely can feel confident in raising this complaint with Wal-Mart if that's something you want to do.
posted by sock me amadeus at 10:24 PM on June 17, 2014 [12 favorites]

He then backtracked and threatened to call the police because we were committing coupon fraud.

This is the point at which you say "ok, call the police right now. I'll wait"

Definitely talk to a lawyer, as mentioned above. I also would have told him he wasn't allowed to walk away with my phone, and many other things, but that's all staircase wit.

I've been assaulted and thrown on the ground in a stupid situation like this before. Never. Again. The first thing you want is the police there, because at least then they can't take your belongings or do blatantly illegal things.

You never need to let anyone like this into your car, never do that again. I would have gotten in my car and locked the doors, and waited for the police.

We were not given back the receipts from our transactions and no receipt for our refund. During the entire process we were never told anyone's name

Realize you were played here. I'm not blaming you, but very early on in this process is when you need to demand these sort of things. Never allow anyone in to your car. Never allow them to take your property. Wait for the police. Hell, i start filming it on your phone. If filming in there is "against store policy" let them whine at the cops. If they try and snatch your phone from you, that will be on video.

This entire thing plays on intimidation. I too was intimated when i had been thrown face down on the ground, and was laying there while an asshole security guard screamed at me about something like this.

The second time it happened to me years later at a different store, i got serious. in the end i got a written and signed apology from corporate and a very large gift card. I used that up and didn't shop their ever again, but at least it was something.
posted by emptythought at 10:25 PM on June 17, 2014 [54 favorites]

Agree with the advice to file a police report and contact a lawyer. You were scammed and ripped off, and that needs to at least go on record. The police and your lawyer will be able to advise you about next steps.

And, if anything like that ever happens to you again, tell them that you are not going anywhere, handing over anything, or opening anything until you are in the presence of the real police. Then call them yourself if necessary. In that situation, I would have told them I was being harassed and threatened, prevented from leaving, and feared for my safety and property. (On preview, the advice to get in your car and lock the doors is excellent. That is also when you start using the video recorder function on your phone.)
posted by rpfields at 11:18 PM on June 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Get a lock down on the day's video feeds asap.
posted by Freedomboy at 11:37 PM on June 17, 2014 [21 favorites]


Do you know how many lawyers would LOVE to jump on the suing walmart train for shit like this?

You got your pick of the litter...go for the best who won't charge you a dime till you are compensated for this embarrassment.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:52 PM on June 17, 2014 [12 favorites]

If I were a retail manager and saw the same customers checking out in multiple transactions without actually leaving the store, especially complicated transactions with several coupons -- especially if it was coupons I'd never seen before* and which other customers weren't using -- I'd be very suspicious that some kind of theft was going on, at some level. Even if it was just the ability to slip a few extra items into your bag in the confusion of all these different transactions.

Your decision to cancel the last transaction also sounds vaguely like a bill-switching scam, where you go to buy an item, wait till the till is open, hand the cashier a small bill, then change your mind about the purchase, followed by an insistence that you just handed the cashier a $50, not a $10 (or whatever).

This is really not how shopping in stores is meant to work. It's not even really how using coupons is meant to work.

The way security handled the situation was beyond the pale, though. It's one thing to feel strongly that something isn't right with a customer's behavior, and something totally different to take their merchandise back without thoroughly checking all the items against receipts and using the cash register to refund only the money the customer actually paid. (Though I can see this getting complicated as in my understanding some of these coupons can actually result in the customer being paid out in cash.)

*When I worked retail we always knew when big promotions were going on, and typically if there was a coupon going around you'd see quite a few different customers with them.
posted by Sara C. at 11:53 PM on June 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

Don't contact walmart. They are going to try to bury this so they can continue doing it to others, while taking away any and all evidence that you may have about this occurring. Have your lawyer do this.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:53 PM on June 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

You, your sister, and your mom need to sit down and document EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW. ASAP!

Then get the lawyer and do what he/she says.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:55 PM on June 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

All of your cell phone records prove the timeline. Don't forget those!
posted by jbenben at 1:01 AM on June 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'd contact a lawyer and see what your options are. Don't contact Walmart. In fact, you might want to have these question anonymized (ie, remove references to walmart and your real name). You don't want to make a public statement about this case if it's going to go to court.
posted by empath at 2:48 AM on June 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

A "$3 off any item" coupon is not something you just come across in a weekly circular. Where did you get these? Are you sure they are valid coupons? Coupons printed off an online forum may have been hacked/modified and may be invalid, even if the register accepts them.

Be very sure of your position before you escalate things.
posted by TheAdamist at 3:47 AM on June 18, 2014 [11 favorites]

If the security guy was abusing his power, then I hope you do what's necessary to make it clear to him, and to everyone associated with this incident, that power abuse will not be tolerated in our society. Little incidents like this are significant.
posted by amtho at 3:57 AM on June 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yes, it's theft, call the police. Also, there may be a higher level store manager to call, and who may be interested in resolving the situation fairly. If there's a lawyer you can hire for a reasonable amount, that would be a big help.

The security guy took your phone, your cash, etc. Totally unacceptable and abusive.
posted by theora55 at 4:59 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Agreed with Sara C. that your behavior likely raised red flags. It is the kind of thing people people do when they are trying to confuse employees. The thing with the "security officer" is bizarre though. Personally, I would call the store manager and ask for the names of the district and regional managers and describe this incident in detail to everyone you manage to talk to.

If you are out of pocket for stuff he confiscated, figure out how much and ask for it back. You need to have something ready for when they ask how they can rectify the situation.
posted by BibiRose at 5:03 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I got so angry on your behalf just reading this. Don't let humiliation and shame stop you from doing what the posters above me suggest.
They got to treat you this way because you're a good and fairness-minded person, one who wants to do the right thing. You didn't see this coming because who the fuck expects that kind of mistreatment?!

Things you're not: A thief OR a sucker.

Stand up for yourself like you would for your best friend, if it happened to them. You deserve it. (Also, Maybe then you can help stop this from happening to other people.)
posted by Omnomnom at 5:05 AM on June 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

While I see how your in-store behavior seems suspicious (sounds like you used the self check out, two people (you + sister) processing multiple transactions, going back and forth between the car and the check out, using many high-value coupons etc.) the way this "security person" treated you was awful.
I would make the complaint primarily about the mistreatment, not about the $17 + coupons you lost. But obviously mention that too. I would contact the headquarter with a detailed description, showing the negative emotions this incident evoked.

What did the other employees and the manager do while this was going on? Did this security guy say why he didn't call the police? Are there any future consequences?

"We came across some coupons that when scanned showed "$3 off any item". Does this mean it says something different on the coupon itself?
posted by travelwithcats at 5:42 AM on June 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


I agree with previous commenters that this man stole from you. You should consider filing a report with the police department having jurisdiction over the area where this particular Wal Mart is located.

"Flashed a badge." Any schmo can buy a reasonable facsimile of a police badge for a costume. A t-shirt and shorts is not a police officer's uniform for any police department I am aware of. He could have been an off-duty or undercover officer, but he likely wasn't either. Impersonating a police officer is a crime. So, this man may have committed two crimes: theft and impersonating a police officer.

You should have asked for his name and badge number. A real police officer would have been obligated to give that information to you if you asked.

Consider hiring a lawyer, or at least speaking to one. Many lawyers offer free consultations.

Don't talk to Wal Mart's customer service, unless it's to get clarification on their coupon policy. They're unlikely to help you.

That all having been said:

Engaging in multiple transactions without leaving the store between transactions, in my understanding, is neither illegal nor against most retailer's coupon policies. It is, however, odd and potentially suspicious behavior, in that most people don't do it. It could be that this raised the hackles of a bona fide security person and subjected you to extra scrutiny. It could also be that your behavior alerted someone with less than honest intentions to the fact that he could more easily commit a crime against you as you knew your behavior was unusual.
posted by tckma at 5:44 AM on June 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Honestly, I'm going to buck the general advice of not speaking to Walmart. Locally, they may want to engage in a cover-up, but I think as a whole, Walmart wants to make sure that their employees are engaging in super creepy, illegal behavior that looks bad. I'd put them on blast on social media (FB, twitter, Tumblr) and email every single on of their senior executives with my story. You will get a response from them if you're patient and persistent.
posted by inturnaround at 5:51 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd write a presidential complaint. Call HQ in Bentonville, AK and ask for the name and email of the person who handles Presidential Complaints. Then document everything that occurred, complete with a scan of the coupons you were using, and where you got them.

Ask for what you want, your money back, your items, an official apology, whatever it is.

In the future, if a store "security" person is being a jerk, call the police. At least the can protect your rights.

As for the coupon, really, where did that come from? I coupon. I've NEVER seen one like that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:27 AM on June 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised that nobody's linked to the Walmart Coupon Policy yet.

I do feel like something's missing here. A "$3 off any item" coupon would almost certainly not be a manufacturer's coupon, which are pretty much always limited to the purchase of a specific manufacturer's product or line of products. The only other types of coupons that Walmart accepts are soda cap tops (which this isn't) or a competitor's coupon, which Walmart only accepts if it is for a specific item.

Plus, you say that the coupon scanned as "$3 off any item" - but was that actually printed on it? While I'm not a lawyer, if this was a programming error in the register and was not the stated value of the actual promotion, repeatedly exploiting that error would indeed be theft. If you find an ATM that gives you $40 when you withdrawing $20 - and such things have happened in real life - you have to return that money to the bank, you certainly can't just keep withdrawing with impunity. While a "bank error in your favor" type situation can be a big help when playing Monopoly, it doesn't work that way in real life.

Regardless, the behavior of the security guard - taking your phone, searching your car, keeping your money - was atrocious and, from your description, illegal. A free consultation with a lawyer is likely best here given the gray areas above.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 7:00 AM on June 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've seen coupons like that, though not for Walmart. $5 off any item over X amount, etc.

Usually, with those sorts of coupons, the clerk confiscates them at the register.

Self-checkouts, however, make this a more difficult proposition. Some coupons, after all, are multiple-use - they are notifications of a store's current deal more than anything else. Others are single use, they get confiscated immediately. It is not your responsibility to know the store's coupon policy on the self-checkout aisle. It is the responsibility of the person overseeing said self-checkout, and if they didn't have anyone doing it, then it's their problem. But apparently associates did see you doing it, came over and checked. It is their responsibility at that point to say "No, these are single use." They did not, and instead, affirmed your transaction. You are, at that point, not in the wrong.

Once the transaction is complete, they can't come after you because they think you should have paid more. The transaction was made, all items were scanned, their robot said you were good to go. It's like if you bought food and then someone came running out to the parking lot saying your bread should have been .50 more. It's unreal.

That said, looking at the coupon policy on preview, it does appear that this is against Walmart's coupon policy UNLESS these were Walmart-specific coupons, so I wouldn't try this again in another Walmart.

However, I agree with other commentators - your fear of the police and ignorance of your rights is what enabled them to abuse you. The correct response is NEVER let them take your property, ever. I would add on a "Please give my phone back, I'd like to contact my attorney", but that's just me. These guys operate through intimidation. They don't actually have any legal authority to do a lot of the things they do - search, etc. They definitely don't have legal authority to ask you to open your car. In fact, even a police officer would have to get a warrant to get you to open your car.
posted by corb at 7:11 AM on June 18, 2014 [18 favorites]

@corb nailed it. "Your fear of the police and ignorance of your rights is what enabled them to abuse you... These guys operate through intimidation. They don't actually have any legal authority to do a lot of the things they do."

We are so conditioned in this society to just do whatever a man in uniform/with the badge tells us to. IIRC, safety expert Gavin de Becker has written about how one should never put any trust in Men Who Work In Store Security - many of them turn out to be perpetrators of crimes themselves.

I'm really sorry this happened to you. Nthing call a lawyer.
posted by hush at 7:44 AM on June 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

At Target (and I am assuming at Walmart too), the AP (buzzword for LP) guys cannot accuse anyone of stealing and definitely not look in cars, take money, take a cell phone, etc. My guess it was an overzealous LP worker. Target visible AP has badges, uniforms, and handcuffs, but that does not make them a real officer!
posted by daninnj at 9:21 AM on June 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

In the future, please know that when someone threatens to "Call the Cops!!!!" often teh best thing to do is let them. By doing so you will either call their bluff (they realize they are being a rediculous idiot adn de-escalate teh cray cray) or they do actually call the cops who show up and see you, reasonable person, and crazy mf-er, so you'll just tell your story and be allowed to leave. Never let anyone creepy go through your car or anything else like that just because you perceive they have "authority" over you. Even if you get pulled over by a real cop and feel uncomfortable dealing with them, you can request that more cops be brought to the scene (or call them to the scene yourself).
posted by WeekendJen at 11:07 AM on June 18, 2014 [11 favorites]

This is so egregious - YES - you should look into getting a lawyer. And once you do, explain what happened to The Consumerist, and to Gawker, two major blogs that cover consumer news and Wal-Mart, respectively. Most assuredly. Make sure this becomes public knowledge.

If you don't lawyer up, you should write a polite, but targeted letter and send it to several executives of Wal-Mart, along with copies of receipts, coupons, etc. Never, ever waste your time with the "customer service" people or manager. You send this letter certified mail, with return receipt. You do that so they know if they don't take care of this and make you right, you WILL get a lawyer.

However, what this guy did to you is so out there, so insane, that even if you are flat broke, you should contact a consumer rights lawyer and ask them to take your case on a contingency basis. My God, demanding your property, refusing to return your cash to you, making calls on your cell phone?? This guy was not a cop and had no right to any of these things. You should not be out of pocket, in order to file suit. I am so angry just reading this it makes me want to get out my pitchfork!
posted by mitschlag at 11:07 AM on June 18, 2014 [11 favorites]

I've done a lot of couponing in my day. I was once accused of coupon fraud (I was using expired coupons at a store that always took them, so I thought it was fine to use them, but stopped after they told me what I was doing was wrong). My take on the situation is that, yes, the dude at Wal-Mart treated you wrong, but you were clearly doing something you shouldn't have been doing. Hang around enough coupon forums and you'll see that the people and stores on Extreme Couponing are doing a lot of what they're doing for the show -- many coupons explicitly state that you can only use 4 coupons of the same type at a time, but of course this is not enforced on the show. These shows are for entertainment purposes.

This part of your question really stuck out to me:
We came across some coupons that when scanned showed "$3 off any item".
There was a coupon-world scandal a few years back where coupons for Crest whitestrips were scanning for Crest toothpaste. This wouldn't seem like a big deal except for the coupons were for $7 off whitestrips (which retail for maybe $30 each) but were taking $7 off each $3 tube of toothpaste that people were buying, so every tube of toothpaste was free, with $4 in overage to cover the rest of your shopping cart. I suspect that's what's going on with your "$3 off any item" coupons -- just because they were scanning on any product, it doesn't mean they were intended to be used on any product. (Another aside: in my several years of regular-to-kinda-extreme couponing, I have never seen a legitimate coupon that could be used on any item. Some store-specific coupons will be $x off $y purchase, but the one you've got sounds totally doctored.)

If I were you, I'd treat this as a cheap lesson in couponing legally (you're out $17 and a batch of counterfeit coupons) and let it drop. You might have a legal case against Wal-Mart, but my guess is that they'll have a legal case against you committing coupon fraud. What are the penalties for that? Here's a list. That site also says, "Not one defendant has been acquitted in a CIC [Coupon Information Center] related coupon fraud case since operations began in 1986."
posted by jabes at 1:33 PM on June 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

You have no evidence any of this occurred.

Yes, you certainly do. The cashier can be subpoenaed. There are video tapes. (although, I'll bet they disappear) You may even be able to find witnesses that come forward. Or rather, your lawyer can.

If a lawyer can't/won't come into play, then contact the store's highest manager and the corporate office in writing. CC your letter (letter, certified mail, not email.) If no action, go to social media.

Please, go after this asshole.
(and find out his name, if you can)
posted by BlueHorse at 1:54 PM on June 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

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