A quick change artist is someone who steals money
by confusing cashiers
while they are making change. They do in this many ways. Usually the thief attempts to distract or confuse the cashier during the transaction, does a quick sleight of hand
with their change, and then claims they weren't give the correct amount. They're called "artists" because they are extraordinarily good at what they do.
This happened to me while I was working as a cashier. It was a busy Saturday at Target, the day before Easter. My store was filled with last minute shoppers desperately trying to find that last box of peeps to complete their childrens' Easter baskets. My line never had fewer than three people waiting to be rung up. Everyone was in a rather good mood, as opposed to Christmas eve, when most people would deck a nun carrying a sick orphan if she bumped into them. An African-American (relevancy revealed below) couple came up to my register buying a roll of paper towels and some gum. They seemed very nice; the woman was being chatty and friendly with me. Their total was around $2 and some change. The woman began to look through her huge purse for her money. Finally, she pulled out a one-hundred dollar bill and a quarter and apologized for not having anything smaller.
"Hmm," I thought to myself, sensing that something odd was afoot. I put the bill under the cash drawer, where it belongs. I started to count out the $97 for her change and got to about $70, when suddenly she threw a five dollar bill into my drawer. She didn't say, "Oh, I found something smaller," she threw the bill into the register. "There ya go honey, use that instead," she intoned sweetly. Alarms went off in my head, something was definitely not right, so I made a conscious effort to do things slowly. I put the money I'd counted out already back into the till, then lifted the drawer to retrieve her $100 bill. I handed her the bill back, and looked back at the register to figure out how much change to give her now out of five dollars. While I was doing the math in my head, she threw a $10 bill into the register and said, "Honey, you gave me back a ten, I gave you a hundred." Bingo.
Very slowly, I said: "No, I gave you a hundred," and flicked on my "Need assistance" light. The woman said, "Look, that's a ten there, that's what you gave me." "No, I gave you a hundred ma'am, I don't keep tens under my drawer," I explained as I shut my drawer so that there was no chance of her tricking me into giving her more money. Then I picked up my phone to call the manager at the service desk because she hadn't noticed my light blinking. The woman then said, "Oh, you're right honey, you're right, I'm sorry just gimme my change." I lied and said that I couldn't get her change without a manager's key, just so that my manager could get a look at them for a police report later. Then the woman got nasty. "You already gave me back my hundred, why you gotta call the manager over? What, you think all black people steal?" she yelled, trying one last time to shame me into opening the drawer, into giving her more money. At this point, I was frantically dialing every phone around my stupid manager to get her attention, and she finally noticed me and came over. I used one of our code words to let her know what had happened. I made her give the woman the $2 change I owed her while the woman screamed at me, calling me racist, stupid, and other things I'd rather not repeat. They then left the store very, very quickly. As I counted my drawer down, I realized that I was over by $10, the ten she threw into the drawer.
The only reason I had any inkling of what was happening was because it had happened to me before with a much less positive outcome.
These people (and I use "people" for lack of a better word) usually get away with this, scott free, as they can just claim it was all a big mistake. Many cashiers have lost their jobs for being suspected of stealing from the register after being tricked. They never even realize anything has happened and have no way to explain where the money has gone.
This kind of thing makes it very hard to trust people, you begin to see them as potential problems. It's also very disconcerting to realize that someone can mess with your head so effectively as to completely dumbfound you. Just another way working retail steals your soul.