Nowadays, many stores have self-checkout counters that conveniently allow a person to ring up and pay for their items on their own. And although the stations are monitored by store associates and video cameras, it's not always clear whether or not the customer is scanning the barcode of the actual product they're purchasing. Unfortunately, for those customers who try to pay less for expensive merchandise by running lower-priced items through the machine, Texas has a law that criminalizes this behavior.
Altering or Impairing the UPCs of Merchandise
Universal product codes (UPC) on items in stores are those little lines all scrunched together. These are unique codes that correspond to the merchandise. When they're passed through a scanner, the system tells the associate and/or customer how much it costs to purchase that item.
Because UPCs are linked to various items, it would follow that, when an expensive product is scanned the display will show a high dollar amount, and when a cheaper product is scanned, the display will show a low dollar amount – unless there's an error. In some cases, it could be a system error, meaning a glitch caused the merchandise to ring up at the wrong price.
However, the error could be human, meaning the person scanning the item changed the barcode in some way to cause a different price to show up, yet make it appear as if they actually scanned and paid for the merchandise. For instance, suppose Letty went into a store to buy a new printer. The machine, at $70, was a little out of her price range, but the packet of gravy mix, at $1.00, was more affordable. Letty grabbed both the printer and the packet of gravy mix, and she headed to the self-checkout counter. When she scanned the printer, instead of running the product's UPC code across the laser, she ran the gravy mix. Because of that, the printer rang up at $1.
To the associate tending the self-checkout section, it appeared as if Letty has paid for the printer, and didn’t say anything as she leaves.
Misdemeanor or Felony Charges Could Ensue
The type of conduct mentioned in the example with Letty is what is referred to as the fraudulent destruction, removal, or concealment of writing, and, in Texas, it's a criminal offense.
Letty, or anyone else engaged in this type of behavior, could be accused of committing a felony or misdemeanor.
The level of charge for altering a UPC code depends on the value of the item:
- Less than $100: Class C misdemeanor, with a possible fine of up to $500
- Between $100 and $749: Class B misdemeanor, which carries a maximum jail term of 180 days
- Between $750 and $2,499: Class A misdemeanor, which comes with a jail sentence of up to 1 year
- Between $2,500 and $29,999: State jail felony, a conviction for which includes up to 2 years in jail
- Between $30,000 and $149,999: Third-degree felony, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison
- Between $150,000 and $299,999: Second-degree felony, for which penalties include up to 20 years in prison
- $300,000 or more: First-degree felony, which can be penalized by imprisonment for up to 99 years