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Costco Is Taking Membership Fraud Very Seriously

Shoppers report getting detained or even kicked out for violating the members-only policy.

Membership is central to Costco's whole business model. America's largest warehouse club and third-largest food retailer currently has some 66.9 million members worldwide and had collected over $4.2 billion in annual membership fees alone in 2022. It's the main reason why Costco can afford to sell you so many high-quality goods at below-market prices.

So, it should come as little surprise that the club is very serious about its members-only policies.

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Just how serious? One shopper found out last month when she got stopped and detained at checkout for violating one of the warehouse's strictest rules, according to the Daily Dot. Her offense: trying to use a membership card that belonged to someone else.

The primary cardholder turned out to be her own mother, but the familial relations didn't matter so much to Costco security, which she claims held her for nearly 20 minutes while phoning her parent to authorize the purchase.

Her account of the incident racked up some 1.9 million views and over 350 comments on TikTok. Several commenters shared similar experiences: "I was buying goldfish with my dads costco card and they escorted me out and didnt let me buy the goldfish and flagged his account for fraud," one wrote. "One time a Costco cashier refused to let me cash out because my mom sent me with her card to buy stuff," added another. "She really acted like I was trying to steal…" 

@tvmoo_on the phone for 20 min 3 ppl on the line to confirm that yes I'm at Costco and yes my mom authorizes the transaction like ??♬ original sound – sissy

The issue of Costco's draconian membership-policy enforcement also came up on Reddit this week, after a shopper refused to let an elderly man borrow his card in the checkout line and later felt conflicted about it: "Part of me asked myself am I a jerk for saying no to this old man," the shopper wrote. "I'm also pretty annoyed that this guy is buying items without a membership while I'm paying an annual fee every year."

The post set off a lengthy discussion about the problems with card-sharing and possible consequences. "You can get your Costco membership revoked by doing that depending on what the policy is at that store," one poster warned.

Many commenters shared their own tales of running afoul of the rules. "I once lent my card to a housemate because according to everyone around me 'everyone does it and it's not a big deal,'" one wrote, "she went to Costco and they gave her a hard time, confiscated the card, she came back home real mad at me, and I had to drive to pick up my card and get an awkward time myself."

Another added, "Back when I first got my membership, my brother asked to borrow it. Figured it couldn't hurt so I let him. I'm not sure how they knew, but after that a manager or lead was called over and checked my ID at the register. When I asked why they told me I had let someone use my membership and was on probation for 6 months. This happened every single time I went until the 6 months was over."

According to its website, Costco's official policy states that membership cards are "not transferable" and that members may bring children and up two guests into the warehouse but that "[o]nly Costco members may purchase items."

It further states that "membership may be terminated at Costco's discretion and without cause."

Chris Shott
Chris Shott is the Deputy Editor covering restaurants and groceries for Eat This, Not That! Read more about Chris
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