The Real Reason Costco Employees Check Receipts at Exits

Tim Boyle, Getty Images
Tim Boyle, Getty Images

If shoppers have one complaint about Costco—the vast discount warehouse chain with a notoriously permissive return policy and speedy checkout lanes—it’s that the employees posted at the exits to take a marker to customers' receipts seem vaguely insulting. Is the premise that everyone is a shoplifter until proven otherwise?

Not exactly. A recent rundown of Costco's policy from The Takeout (via Cheat Sheet) points out that the true motivation of these exit-door sentries isn’t to identify potential thieves. It’s to make sure that Costco isn’t picking the pockets of its customers.

According to employees who have made not-for-attribution comments, Costco is actually examining receipts to make sure a shopper hasn’t been overcharged for their purchases. Someone with three giant bundles of toilet paper in their cart, for example, might have been charged for four. By giving the receipt a cursory glance, the employee can make sure a cashier didn’t inadvertently ring up phantom crates of canned tuna.

Of course, if someone did try to wheel out several big-screen televisions without a receipt, the exit door employee would likely make an issue of it. But they’re not in loss prevention, and the measure isn’t intended to deter thieves. If you do have something in your cart you didn’t pay for, their immediate assumption is that the mistake is almost certainly the result of a cashier not scanning the item.

In fact, hardly any criminals are caught at the door—which isn't to say the store isn't immune to theft. Earlier this year, thieves at a Seattle Costco were busted with armloads of laptops after they barged out of the back entrance. In June, a Costco in Alpharetta, Georgia, was victimized by burglars who smashed the jewelry case at night and made off with $10,000 worth of valuables.

[h/t The Takeout]

If the Polls Close While You’re Still in Line to Vote, Don’t Leave

iStock/fstop123
iStock/fstop123

If the Twitter photos of lines snaking around city blocks are any indication, people are showing up to vote in today's midterm elections in droves. And while the high voter turnout is a great example of democracy in action, it spells bad news for voter wait times. So, what do you do if you’re stuck at the back of the line when your polling place closes? You stay right where you are.

If you didn't take advantage of your state's voting time-off laws to cast your ballot during the workday (if your state has them, that is), there's a good chance you'll be caught in an after-work crush. But don't despair! As long as you are in line at closing time, you have a legal right to vote—so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. In fact, if someone does attempt to force you to leave, you are encouraged to call a voter protection hotline (such as 1-866-OUR-VOTE) or submit a complaint to the Department of Justice (1-800-253-3931).

These hotlines are also available to help you if you witness acts of voter intimidation or discrimination. As they say: If you see something, say something!

Is It Illegal to Die in Longyearbyen, Norway?

iStock/sbossert
iStock/sbossert

Located on the archipelago of Svalbard just 800 miles from the North Pole, the Norwegian village of Longyearbyen is reputed to be the world’s most northerly town. Deep within the Arctic Circle, the old coal-mining hub doesn’t see sunlight for about four months out of the year and is riddled with polar bears—and yet it’s home to approximately 2000 residents and sees upwards of 65,000 visitors each year.

According to the BBC, The Guardian, WIRED, Bustle, Men’s Health, The Sun, New York Post, IFL Science, Stuff, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and a handful of other publications, a quirky law in Longyearbyen makes it illegal for any of those people to die. This colorful factoid is apparently even parroted by tour guides who live in the region.

But it’s not true.

There is no law in Longyearbyen making it illegal to die. “It is not forbidden to die in Longyearbyen,” Jovna Z. Dunfjell of the Svalbard Church tells Mental Floss in an email. “If that had been the case, how would you punish the act?”

The myth of a “forbidden to die” law appears to have emerged from the town’s unusual geography. Since Longyearbyen is so far off the beaten path, there are no elder care homes. The town has a small local hospital, but it’s not equipped to handle most serious medical cases.

“It is not forbidden to die in Longyearbyen ...” Svalbard’s Information Adviser Liv Asta Ødegaard wrote in an email to the editors of Wikipedia (yep, even Wikipedia was skeptical of this story). “All inhabitants in Longyearbyen have to keep an address on the main land, and when they get old and need help and nursing from the society, they have to move back to the main land.”

In other words, dying isn’t banned—it’s just uncommon. If you’re in danger of dying, the local hospital will send you to a southern hospital. (Though it’s obviously not something people can always prepare for: In 2015, an avalanche there killed two people.)

However, for Longyearbyen's unlucky dead, it is forbidden to be buried in a coffin. It’s so chilly in Longyearbyen that bodies barely decompose. (Urns are allowed, however.)

In fact, some century-old bodies in the local cemetery still contain rare remnants of the 1918 influenza virus that killed around 40 million people. In 1998, researchers visited the graveyard to gather samples of the virus’s genetic material. The findings were extremely valuable and have helped scientists better understand how to combat similar cases in the future. The research could save millions of lives.

(And if you're planning a trip, don't believe the rumors that this virus could spread to visitors. In an email, Svalbard’s Communication Adviser Terje Carlsen writes: “This is not an active virus and is not considered a threat.” Watch out for those polar bears, though!)

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