SAN DIEGO - A grocery chain has changed what shoppers see at its self-checkout kiosks because Team 10 found a loophole with the computerized system that lets people unknowingly pay for other people's bills.
The consumer investigation began when Carmel Valley resident Gordon Gilbreath noticed something strange on his receipt. He contacted Team 10, and the undercover investigation began to check his claim.
Gilbreath was shopping at the Vons in Carmel Valley when he said he swiped his Vons card at a self-checkout register and began ringing up his items.
"Then I go to hit the finish button and instead of asking for my form of payment, like what credit card I'm going to use, it just said thank you for shopping at Vons and spit out the receipt," Gilbreath said.
"And I thought that's really odd, and then I thought, 'Well maybe I really did swipe my debit card and not the Von's card and I'm just confused and whatever'," Gilbreath said.
But he was still bothered by the transaction and said when he got home he checked the receipt to try and figure out what happened.
"I'm looking at it and I see there is another person's name on here and I thought, 'Oh my god, this woman just paid for all of my groceries', like $40 worth of groceries," Gilbreath said.
He said he called Vons to see if the store could look up her information from her name and Vons club card number on his receipt because he wanted to pay the woman for his groceries.
"I felt awful and then I kind of wondered how often this happened," said Gilbreath.
Vons did reach out to the woman whose club card was used, but there are questions on whether the same person paid for the groceries. Vons was conducting an internal investigation.
Team 10 went undercover at another Vons store to test the self-checkout kiosks and see what would happen.
A Team 10 member scanned an item, did not hit the finish button, swiped a card to pay and then left the machine.
Because the finish button was not pressed, the account still was open.
A Team 10 researcher who was next on line, was able to use the same machine to put a purchase on the open account - from the Team 10 member who was first on line.
Team 10 also checked two other grocery stores, Ralphs and Albertsons. The self-checkout machines forced Team 10 testers to press the finish button before paying for purchases, so there was no chance of leaving the kiosk with an open transaction.
"I would think that if it's that important to finish their transaction that way there might want to be a little sign or something that indicates don't forget to do that," said Gilbreath.
As soon as Team 10 told a Vons media representative about the undercover test, Vons took a proactive approach to protect consumers. Every self-checkout terminal in Southern California recently had signs put up near the kiosks that warn consumers to press the finish button before leaving. The signs are now in all 276 locations.
A Vons spokesperson also said the company is working on a permanent fix.
Vons declined an on-camera interview, but did release this statement:
Customers can swipe their debit card and enter their Club Card number and PIN at any time during their transaction, but their transaction is not complete and their payment does not go thru until they hit “finish and pay.” Our system has flags that monitor the progress of each transaction and the attendant assigned to our self check out area is trained to monitor for these situations, but there still are rare instances where customers do not complete their transaction.
We are working on a solution that would prevent this problem from occurring. In the meantime, we have placed signage at our self checkout terminals to remind customers to collect their receipt prior to leaving the store to ensure that they have completed their transaction.
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