The One Reason You Should Never Use Self-Checkout at Walmart, Lawyer Warns

You could end up in serious legal trouble for an innocent mistake.

Self-checkout is wildly convenient—especially when you're in a rush and you don't want to wait in line for a cashier. Many of us take advantage of self-checkout at Walmart stores, as it's easy as can be to fill up your cart, scan your purchases, and be on your way. But there may actually be a serious downside to using these self-checkout machines, whether at Walmart or at other major retailers. Read on to find out why one lawyer is saying you should avoid this payment method entirely, and the consequences you could face if you don't heed her warning.

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Walmart employees have previously addressed concerns about self-checkout.

A self-checkout kiosk at a Walmart store
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While scan-and-go is simple to use, Walmart employees have issued warnings to shoppers about relying on this method. An ex-Walmart employee posted on the social media app TikTok, advising customers about a common alert they might see at self-checkout. According to the TikToker, @obeygoddess, if you see the "call for help" message on the screen, this is generally because you're purchasing age-restricted products. These include alcohol, movies, and chemicals like acetone. Walmart associates are required to check identification before an item can be purchased, the former employee said.

The same TikToker warned that Walmart has cameras at these self-run counters and can spot people who try to walk away with items they didn't pay for. If that wasn't enough to make you proceed with extra caution when scanning, customers reported that they've been cited for accidentally shoplifting.

A woman was recently charged with petty theft.

handcuffs and gavel
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If you've ever looked at your Walmart receipt and realized you didn't scan an item, be careful to not make the same mistake twice. According to reporting by Tucson station KGUN 9, an Arizona woman was cited for shoplifting while using self-checkout at Walmart—but she claims it was an honest mistake. The woman, who did not wish to be named and is in her 60s, told the outlet that she was "in complete and total shock" when she was cited.

After checking out at a Walmart on La Cholla Boulevard, the woman was apprehended by two women and taken to an interrogation room where she was informed that she was being arrested for shoplifting. The citation was for petty theft and because it totaled over $30, they were required to arrest her.

"I had absolutely no knowledge, let alone the intention of not paying for my items," the woman said. A sheriff then came to the store, read her her rights, and had her sign certain documents.

The sheriff offered to stay and discuss the issue "because he could tell I was so upset," the woman said. Unfortunately, this isn't an isolated incident at the self-checkout line.

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Walmart says it takes steps to make shopping "safe and enjoyable."

Close up of Walmart logo displayed on the facade of one of their supercenters in South San Francisco bay area
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Sandra Barger, a lawyer and counselor who provides court-ordered treatment, noticed that people who are not her typical clients were coming through the court diversion program for petty theft, as reported by KGUN 9. And a majority were stemming from the La Cholla Walmart. All in all, there have been 62 cite and releases at this Walmart between Jan. 2021 and April 2022, according to Pima County Sheriff Deputies, per KGUN 9.

A Walmart spokesperson declined to comment on specific store policies when questioned by KGUN 9 due to "obvious security reasons," but they did confirm that police are sometimes involved in these situations. "When necessary, we reach out to law enforcement as part of our commitment to meet our customers' and associates' expectations of a safe and enjoyable shopping experience," the spokesperson said.

Another attorney on TikTok recommends avoiding self-checkout altogether.

walmart self-checkout scanner
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Barger said she knows there are some people who do come to Walmart with the intent to steal, but she also told KGUN 9 that there should be an opportunity to rectify these kinds of situations before customers leave the store.

Meanwhile, another attorney on TikTok advises people to avoid self-checkout and its potential legal ramifications altogether. According to Carrie Jernigan, who uses the handle @carriejernigan1, there are three kinds of people who are charged with shoplifting at self-checkout, including those who intentionally steal and those who are guilty of "theft by mistake," like the Tucson-based woman.

The third group is comprised of the "truly innocent," Jerrigan said, as they are not charged on the day of their purchase. Instead, if a retailer comes up short on inventory, they might review footage for the last person to buy a certain item and determine that customer stole something.

When self-checkout was first introduced, stores were much more lenient. Now, because thieves have gotten better at stealing, retailers are more stringent. As a result, you could be saddled with thousands of dollars in legal bills and up to a year in jail if found guilty, according to Jerrigan. "These big box stores are not going to spend their time and resources in deciding if you stole it on purpose or [if] it was a mistake," she said. "They have lost all sympathy and they are just taking a 'tell it to the judge' approach."

READ THIS NEXT: If You Shop at Walmart, Prepare to See More of This at Stores Nationwide.

You can take steps to protect yourself from running into trouble with the law.

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If you absolutely must use self-checkout, Jernigan recommends using it only for purchases with a limited number of items, using your debit or credit card instead of cash, keeping your receipt, and being slow and intentional when you scan your purchases. You can even hold the item up to the self-checkout camera to show what you're buying before scanning and putting it in your bag, she said.

When asked by the New York Post about Jernigan's TikTok and the legal approaches she discussed, a Walmart spokesperson confirmed the company knew about the video. "This is not a practice Walmart participates in," the spokesperson told the outlet.

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