Here's why Costco really checks your receipt before you leave

Every Costco shopper has been there. You've just spent hours loading up your cart with everything on your shopping list (and more than a few things you didn't even know you needed until you saw them). You waited in line, you made it through the checkout, and you're wondering how on earth all of this is going to get in your car. First, though, you have to go through the exit receipt check.

It's a weird thing, right? It's like driving along and being followed by a police car without the lights on. Even if you haven't done anything wrong, it makes it feel like you have. They're watching you, they're checking to make sure you paid for everything, and they want to protect themselves against sticky-fingered customers. Like you.

Right?

Actually, like that cop who just happened to turn in behind you, there's nothing really sinister about it. A lot of what they're doing is actually looking out for your best interests — again, just like that cop on patrol.

One Costco-centric Reddit thread had employees sharing what they were looking for, and part of it is confirmation that the number of items in the cart is actually the number that's on the receipt. One employee shared some eye-opening figures, and claimed their store kept track of how much merchandise was stopped at the door because it wasn't paid for — and it was in the tens of thousands of dollars. But the official line is pretty different.

MSN did a little digging into just what else those exit greeters are trained to look for, and found they're actually checking your receipt to make sure your transaction went smoothly. Ever get home, check your own receipt, and realize you've been overcharged or one of your items was accidentally rung up multiple times? They're looking for that so they can fix it before you get out the door.

"Trust me, we're not loss prevention, we have loss prevention in the store and that's not us," one employee explained.

One former employee wanted to clear the air on Reddit, and said a big part of their job is also making sure customers don't forget some of the things they pay for, but have to pick up separately before they leave — like gift cards, or merchandise that has to be retrieved from inside cases or behind counters.

They're also looking to make sure any store promotions were properly applied, because hey, technology isn't perfect, right? Neither are people, and that's why Kevin Heuer, a general manager at a San Francisco Costco, told SFGate they were also looking to make sure cashiers didn't miss anything in the bottom of customers' baskets.

Costco isn't the only store to employ exit greeters, and most of the warehouse-style stores do. When MSN reached out to Sam's Club corporate, they said they purposely hire friendly, chatty exit greeters as a way of making sure app-related transactions went smoothly, to make sure they found everything, address complaints, and share information about upcoming promotions.

And Costco representatives said the same thing, with one employee saying they'd caught hundreds of dollars in overcharges, and had immediately helped the customers get their refunds.

Still, knowing that might not make you feel any better, and it might not help you shake the feeling you're being interrogated because they think you stole something. 

You wouldn't be alone, and at least one man, who happens to be a columnist at The Orange County Register, has embarked on a crusade to refuse the receipt-checkers. 

"If you want to join me on this little effort, know full well that you are within the law and any attempt to physically stop you is not only wrong but likely either false imprisonment or assault or some other crime that Costco doesn't want its employees charged with," he writes. Unfortunately, he's probably wrong.

So is the policy legal, or is it a violation of your rights?

In Costco's case, they're perfectly within their rights because, CBS says, it's written into the membership agreement you voluntarily signed. It's the same for other warehouse-type stores that have similar memberships, like Sam's Club and BJ's.

In other words, we don't recommend running out without showing your receipt.

But that brings up an important question: What if you do refuse?

In 2013, Timothy Walls refused to show his receipt for his $102.66 purchase and the employee he tried to bypass grabbed his cart and wouldn't let him leave. Walls shoved the employee, and that's when another employee stepped in with some martial arts moves learned in the military, and broke Walls' leg in several places (via The Oregonian). Walls sued for $610,000, but lost — because, The Oregonian later reported, the judge ruled he had pushed an employee first.

Still, demanding to see your receipt is not OK in most stores. Consumer advocate Edgar Dworsky says that if you're in a conventional retail store where you didn't sign anything agreeing to allow employees to inspect your receipt or your cart when you're leaving, you don't have to hand it over. That return trip to get your refund for a double-charge? That's on you.