What’s the Quick Change Scam and How Do I Protect Myself From It?

Some customers are confusing cashiers at checkout as a ruse to walk away with more money. Here's how to look out for it.

At this point, when we hear the word “scam” we immediately think of the kinds of scams we see online. Online scams can come in all shapes and sizes, like money scams disguised as deals trying to get you to purchase a timeshare or claim a free prize, or gift card scams that make it easy for scammers to obtain a person’s banking information. And yet, with so many types of scans we see online—and cyberattacks that can compromise your data online—we rarely are looking for scams that are happening in real life, like the current series of quick change scams happening at stores across Wisconsin.

So how does one avoid a quick change scam, and how do you identify that you’re a victim of the crime before it’s too late?

What is the quick change scam?

A quick change scam happens when a person comes into a store to buy something seemingly small and inexpensive, but purchases that product with a large bill. Because the bill is large, the buyer will confuse the cashier with several cash exchanges, resulting in the scammer making off with more money than they initially entered the store with.

According to Crime Stoppers, quick change scammers look to particularly target inexperienced cashiers so they can have the upper hand. In some cases, the scammer will confuse the cashier with these quick exchanges, essentially reporting to the cashier how much they owe, while another suspect could be on the line distracting the cashier as this exchange occurs.

Currently, the Department of Justice is investigating a series of quick-change scams happening in the Fox Valley area of Wisconsin over the past month, particularly in Oshkosh, Neenah and Appleton. While there are only a small number of quick change scam cases being investigated, it’s still important to be aware of what’s going on, and how to avoid it if you’re a storefront business owner.

How to avoid the quick change scam

Top View of an Open Cash Register Drawer On Wooden TableOzgur Coskun/Getty Images

If you have a storefront business or manage a grocery store, you can try to avoid quick change scams by setting a particular limit on the types of bills customers can use. When a cashier is handed a bill higher than $20, then the cashier automatically will hand back the large bill and say we don’t accept it.

Be sure to also warn your cashiers and clerks about these quick change scams and have them stay focused and keep their eyes peeled for peculiar moments such as these. If a customer is trying to rush them through the process, let the cashiers know it’s okay to slow down and take a minute to make sure they are being handed the proper change.

For anyone working in this situation who isn’t sure how to identify a scammer, be sure to talk to a supervisor or alert the authorities if a particular situation seems off to you.


Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a journalist and content strategist with a main focus on nutrition, health and wellness coverage. She holds an MA in Journalism from DePaul University and a Nutrition Science certificate from Stanford Medicine. Her work has been featured in publications including Taste of Home, Reader's Digest, Bustle, Buzzfeed, INSIDER, MSN, Eat This, Not That! and more.