Saturday, October 25, 2008


I believe in the underdog going for justice but in many lawsuits I wonder if the ends offer any benefit other than padding the litigator's pockets.
A court just ruled against Target, awarding $3.1 million to a woman who was falsely accused of using counterfeit $100 bills. The legal tender was issued before the clerk was even born, so his gut reaction was to issue an email warning to a half-dozen other businesses in the area. One of the other businesses receiving the warning happened to be the Belk Department Store where the Target customer works in loss prevention.
There are so many things wrong with this whole scenario that it's hard to know where to begin dissecting it - but I'm going to forge ahead.
First, I despise $100 bills. I don't carry huge chunks of cash around so I don't need large bills to keep my wallet from stretching. On the extremely rare occasion that I may opt to pay cash for something costing a few C-notes, I will ask the bank teller for them and go straight to the vendor - do not pass go, get out of jail free, run like yo' mama's screaming.
For those that choose to spend the big bills, be aware that a watchful thief will see how much change you receive and may assume there are more Ben Franklin photos hiding in your wallet.
Second, I have had my own argument with a very young sales clerk when I tried to spend an old $20. "This is counterfeit, I can't take it," the kid looked bored. "No it isn't, I just got it from the bank." I ended up giving her a newer bill and spent my old one elsewhere. So what? The kid was ignorant and working for minimum wage. We're lucky she can count change, much less recognize old bills. Oh wait, they don't actually have to figure the change any more do they?
Moving on, The woman filing suit works in security. I can't believe she doesn't have empathy for a merchant trying to be a good citizen and sending out warnings to others. Petty theft costs everyone, especially consumers. Has she never heard "err on the side of caution"?
Finally, a very public apology should have sufficed in this case. Target could have sent another email retracting their initial alert and simply saying, "Our clerk is an idiot, the bills are real." Give the woman a shopping spree to restore her dignity, make personal visits to the stores receiving alerts, say "I'm sorry."
Instead, this falsely accused woman has now potentially burdened Target shoppers with making up the losses in higher prices. Target gives millions to education, calculating a percentage of their sales profits. I wonder how much this Belk-security-guard-turned-millionaire will donate to charity.
Where's Judge Judy when we need her to knock some sense into these folks?


  1. Iris: This is an EXTREMELY complex subject, unfortunately. Without getting into bank policies regarding such bills, counterfeiting printing technology, and the legal issues, I will say this. You've pointed out the most significant issue, that being that Target probably could have smoothed the whole thing over with a gift certificate. However, just as significant is the fact that store clerks are the front line gatekeepers on the counterfeit currency front. The are placed in the uncomfortable and tenuous position of having to make the determination at the cash register. (If they make the wrong call, the money is pulled out of their checks when they get paid. BTW, those pens that folks use to mark up the bill do not work well.)

    I used to represent Wells Fargo Bank, Bank of America, Wachovia, and others. Each one has very expensive machines in their bank vaults to pull out counterfeit bills when they count the money at night. Why, because if they miss them and make a deposit at the Federal Reserve, they are charged with the bad bill. However, even those expensive machines make mistakes and are not foolproof. Only the Federal Reserve has machines capable of making an accurate determination.

    My explanation of this has already gone too far. Suffice it to say that unfortunately juries do not often understand the complexity of factors coming into play in a fact situation, and simply make a determination based on the 2 or 3 factors most important to them.

    You are right in having concerns about the system; however, they are very complex for a reason.

  2. Interesting info and I can well understand the complexities in the courts and with the monetary system. I suppose the core of my issue with the news story is - it IS a complex system and why wouldn't someone that works in loss prevention understand the intent on Target's part wasn't to defame her but was a regrettable error on the part of a young clerk.

  3. If anyone in this country thinks there is justice in any venue, they haven't been to civil court. The injustice of a simple Divorce is quite remarkable. There is no justice, plain and simple. This is yet another example.