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$1.5 Million Bar-code Scheme Bilks Wal-Mart Stores

samzenpus posted more than 9 years ago | from the your-total-is-one-dollar dept.

Security 618

nomrniceguy writes "Two couples have been charged in a price-switching scheme that allegedly defrauded Wal-Mart stores in 19 states of $1.5 million over the last decade. Authorities said the scheme involved using a home computer to produce UPC bar codes for cheaper products and slipping them over the real codes on high-priced items. The suspects then allegedly sold the merchandise, or returned it for refunds or store gift cards that also were sold."

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618 comments

Doesn't add up (4, Interesting)

jardin (778043) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226129)

If they were rung up as lower priced items, then wouldn't it show the wrong items on the cash register/receipts? I don't understand how the cashiers didn't catch on. And how did they go about returning these items when the wrong items (and prices) were printed on the receipts?

Re:Doesn't add up (4, Insightful)

stickystyle (799509) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226140)

Have you been to a WalMart?
The people that work there are not like in the commericals, they are just scaning you product, waiting till it's there chance to die.

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

jardin (778043) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226161)

Let's say they stick a $10 toaster UPC on a plasma TV. Maybe the cashiers slip up and let the sale slide, but what happens when they return it? The receipt first of all has the wrong item, and secondly says it was only purchased for $10. Even if they are dumb enough to mistake the plasma television for a toaster, wouldn't they only get their $10 back?

Re:Doesn't add up (5, Informative)

trs9000 (73898) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226182)

The receipt first of all has the wrong item, and secondly says it was only purchased for $10. Even if they are dumb enough to mistake the plasma television for a toaster, wouldn't they only get their $10 back?

Yes, in theory. However, one of the reasons my mom loves walmart (and i cant really argue this point) is that they will take *anything* back. No receipt? Fine! Got it somewhere else? No problem! You broke it?! and coughed on it and it's a food product?!! Sure, we'll take it back! They are very accomadating with returns.

Re:Doesn't add up (5, Interesting)

shufler (262955) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226269)

It should be pointed out that this is in fact, honest to goodness Wal*Mart policy. The official Wal*Mart literature and training clearly states it's their policy to take back ANYTHING. The reasoning they give is that a happy customer is a returning customer.

Ask anyone who's worked there long enough, and they'll tell you all sorts of stories about people returning things which they don't even carry. Inventory time becomes hilarious in a very unhilarious way.

The policy doesn't extend to everything though. I belive things like CDs and DVDs can only be exchanged for the same item. It should also be noted that opened murchandise isn't resold, and that stores will donate a certain amount to charity. The rest is thrown in the trash compactor.

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

Compact Dick (518888) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226305)

The reasoning they give is that a happy customer is a returning customer.

As in returning the goods, right? Truer words were never said.

Re:Doesn't add up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11226307)

a happy customer is a returning customer

...and buying...and returning...and buying...and returning. Getting happier all the time.

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

shufler (262955) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226289)

I didn't RTFA, but I'd assume they were printing UPCs for similar items. For instance, a plasma TV would get another UPC from a cheaper plasma TV.

I don't know if this is what they did, however this is how I would go about doing it. As long as the cash rings up something that looks right, it should be alright. Though, the cash does display items using abreviations and other weird short forms to fit it on the line. I've seen items scan simply as "12 pack" or "toy", which isn't descriptive in the least.

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

eric76 (679787) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226337)

I've wondered why some people didn't just change tags for the hell of it.

One time I saw someone taking parking tickets out from under the windshield wipers of vehicles and placing them under the windshield wipers of other vehicles.

They didn't get anything out of it. They just wanted to cause trouble.

Re:Doesn't add up (2, Informative)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226255)

My girlfriend worked in a couple of supermarkets when she was a student. She checks every receipt carefully for mispriced or mis-scanned items. Apparently it's really easy to get ripped off by incorrect pricing, but no-one ever checks.


Of course, she takes the piss out of me because I look at every receipt to check the print quality, but that's because I do tech support for most of the UK's supermarkets...

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

pummer (637413) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226359)

You're missing the point. They did this to the tune of $1.5 million. This isn't a simpleton cashier or two who let things slide - they had to have a scheme for dealing with this.

Re:Doesn't add up (3, Insightful)

tmbg37 (694325) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226142)

The article said the the couple purchased items during busy periods, so probably the checkout clerk either didn't notice/didn't want to hold up the line. It's also likely that the employees just didn't care enough to make a fuss about it.

Re:Doesn't add up (2, Insightful)

eclectro (227083) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226287)

It's also likely that the employees just didn't care enough to make a fuss about it.

I don't think that it is a question of caring.

You must remember that Walmart has a HUGE inventory and for all purposes impossible for any single checkout clerk to be aware of price fluctuations. Couple this with the fact that Walmart awards clerks who are very fast at checking out, and it is apparent that by time the thieves made it to the checkout line it was too late already.

The article mentions that they were well travelled covering stores in multiple states, and that there were other retailers beside Walmart involved. So it was a pretty complex and effective scam, never giving any one clerk a chance to recognize them.

It must suck for them to be spending New Years (and likely a few more) in jail.

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

maxdamage (615250) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226151)

My thoughts exactly... They would only be able to return something with the same code and so they would be given the same refund anyway... And they dont refund more than what you paid for an item anyway...

Re:Doesn't add up (2, Informative)

cmallinson (538852) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226170)

They would only be able to return something with the same code and so they would be given the same refund anyway

They probably returned the items without receipts. Many stores will give only store credit, or gift cards in the amount of the lowest sale price for the item when it is returned without a receipt. They still would have made money, and that would account for them having gift cards to sell.

Re:Doesn't add up (3, Insightful)

trevdak (797540) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226152)

Having worked in a Wal-Mart for one summer, I can assure you that I not only didn't pay attention to the register display thing, but I would've welcomed some excitement of someone actually stealing from the store. Then again, for there to be any excitement I'd either have to be an accomplice or actually bust them. Hmmm.

Worst job I've ever had.

I never noticed anyone stealing so Wal Mart don't sue me when you read this.

Re:Doesn't add up (2, Funny)

iocat (572367) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226193)

One of the most ironic things that ever happened to me was at Walmat. I usually don't shop there but got bad service at Sears and left, but still needed a seriously cheap 13" TV. So I went to Wal-Mart, browsed for a while, bought one and left, only to be assaulted at the door by some Nazi who insisted she had to check my receipt to make sure I hadn't stolen anything. Very irritating. Then I got to the car, put the TV in the trunk, looked down and saw a small craft item that I had thrown in the cart on impulse and *totally* forgotten to pay for... It was kind of a funny situation, as I then had to surrepticiously sneak it back into the store to pay for it while trying to explain to my son that I hadn't stolen it. Bottom line is -- even with their high security, you gotta figure if someone like me can *unintentionally* steal from Wal-Mart, others are probably ripping them off left, right, and center.

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

hypermike (680396) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226165)

They probably never used the receipts, Ive never had a problem returning something there without one. For example Im guilty of this, I had a ps2 controller that broke due to static (2 in one week I might add)- FYI, dont get close to them if your charged! Anyway I just walked in with the controller and walked out with a new one seconds later. I originally bought it at Gamestop, they turned my return down, but its hard to believe that no one caught on.

Re:Doesn't add up (4, Interesting)

petecarlson (457202) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226166)

Perhaps they printed their own recipts with the right item and price. I did this once at best Buy when I needed a recipt for a cell phone that I had bought the stupid insurance for. The reciept had faded to the point where it was hardly legible. They told me it wasn't valid because they couldn't read it. I went home and printed a new recipt with a thermal printer and took it to another store where they replaced my phone.

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

imroy (755) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226333)

I've used a scanner a few times to read old thermal-print movie stubs. It was surprising because the text was almost invisible. After a little playing with the levels in The GIMP, the text showed up pretty well. But I doubt your local supermarket employees would even know you can do that, let alone have the time to do it.

Re:Doesn't add up (2, Insightful)

robslimo (587196) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226167)

Hmmm, I think I see a weakness in the 'self checkout' concept. How the heck do you prevent the UPC abuse there? I guess they will have to rely the old security cams to spot folks sticking labels on boxes.

BTW, kudos to the submitter for providing a link to the light-weight (printable) version of the article.

Re:Doesn't add up (3, Informative)

mondaypickle (739774) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226197)

Most of the self check-out things weigh things after u scan them to make sure its the right item, so this wouldnt work on self check-out machines

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

Kierthos (225954) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226267)

Well, I see how that could keep you from, say, getting 2 pounds of apples for the price of 1 pound of apples, or other weight-related grocery items, but I just can't see them having the weights of every single purchasable item in the database.

Besides, even with the weight thing, it would still pretty much let you slide by with any price you wanted to code for DVDs, VHS tapes, cassette tapes or CDs. I mean, Wally World pretty much has every DVD (save for box sets) packaged the same way... so you could have Jet Li's "Hero" ring up for whatever you wanted (say as one of the cheapo DVDs on sale, rather then the full price), and the weight probably wouldn't be off at all or by that much.

Kierthos

Re:Doesn't add up (2, Informative)

idolcrash (836925) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226279)

The weight thing doesn't seem to actually measure the weight, it just makes sure something is there. I always put stuff there when I'm buying and it doesn't touch or something I just push down with my hand and it works.

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

atrus (73476) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226219)

Wal-mart already knows how much each item weighs. The self-checkout machines require that you put the item "in the bagging area", which is basicly a big scale. A simple way around it is to use a barcode of something very cheap but around the same weight as the expensive item (like a bag of soil, catfood, etc, would weigh the same as a TV).

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

cerberus4696 (765520) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226262)

In addition to weighing, self-checkout kiosks usually have a customer service rep nearby who can see the activity at each terminal from his own screen. Obviously, one can't monitor everything that goes through there, but if someone is walking out with a TV after paying $15.95, it's clear there's a problem.

Re:Doesn't add up (2, Insightful)

jesdynf (42915) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226331)

How the heck do you prevent the UPC abuse there?

By not using UPCs -- Wal-Mart's pushing for RFID tags in all God's merchandise. That'd make self-checkout both faster and more difficult to defeat.

Although... with a portable software RFID reader and tag broadcaster, and a soft canvas tote bag lined with copper mesh, you might be able to scam it after all.

Yeah -- a Faraday cage with a reader on the inside and a multiple-channel transmitter on the other. (Hardwired together. I know.) Stick a recycle/globe logo on the bag's surface, so it's a hippie shopping bag.

Items are dropped into the bag and their code is stored. The bag transmits either that item code or a previously scanned code of a similar but cheaper item. Field user interface is dead simple.

If they use and trust RFID for self-checkout, wait until things are /very/ busy, grab a bunch of items that turn into much smaller items in your tote, wave it at the stand, pay in cash, and saunter on out the most crowded door. Flash the receipt at the harried greeter on your way out.

Primary weakness is either visual inspections by /sharp-eyed/ and diligent greeters or trained professionals who recognize aberrant behavior and have the leeway to follow it up.

Honestly, though, these people deserved to be caught. They found $10K in stolen goods? They used an /informant/ to track 'em down? Waaaaaaaaay too big a footprint. Bound to happen. Bringing in friends and making it a /business/ and -- you just know they had to brag about it. Mention it to people.

Dumbasses.

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

cl191 (831857) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226177)

They don't care about anything, I made a few returns before, and they didn't even bother to open up the boxes to check the contents (even though I have broken the seals). Also, there are some "self checkout" lanes in some of their stores. There's supposed to be someone watching you remotely during the process, but I guess they don't care much either.

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226204)

If they see you scanning every item before you put it in the bag, they probably won't think anything is up. They aren't going to be close enough to actually see the item on the computer screen and compare it to what you are scanning. Even if they were, they will most likely have more than one lane to watch, otherwise they may as well do the scanning themselves.

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

eric76 (679787) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226271)

My sister told me about one lady she met who bought a broken VCR for a dollar or two at a garage sale and then returned it to MallWart for a full refund of the original price.

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

has2k1 (787264) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226178)

Walmart is probably the worlds largest company. It has thousands if not millions of employees.

In a sufficiently large number of people many are idiots and never underestimate the "effectiveness" of idiots in large numbers.

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

VertigoAce (257771) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226180)

This is Wal-Mart we're talking about... I'm sure their employees don't really care that much about keeping customers honest. This is the kind of store that lets college students purchase home entertainment centers for their dorm rooms and return them every 90 days under their "no questions asked" return policy. Losing a little here and there to the dishonest customers might be worthwhile if you can get the honest ones to spend enough money there.

Re:Doesn't add up (0, Redundant)

zmollusc (763634) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226183)

Depends on what you do. If you mark a 32" plasma as 'tin of beans, $0.25' then the cashier may become suspicious, if you mark it as a 32" CRT tv of the same brand then you may get away with it. There are only a few characters on the till's readout and the cashier can't be expected to know every item. If the scanner accepts the barcode and the display reads something plausible "Tv 32 XYZ123 $300" then your minimum wage cashier might move on to the next thing in the basket.

Re:Doesn't add up (2, Informative)

iocat (572367) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226217)

This is exactly how this scam works. They busted [eastbayexpress.com] some people who were doing this at Home Depot around San Francisco (San Leandro and Emeryville, I think, if you want to be specific -- read the article), using a bar code for a really cheap light fixture and putting it on a much more expensive fixture (by $150 or so). They did the same thing with sinks, too. They'd buy like 10 at a time along w/ a ton of legit stuff, then sell the legit stuff to a contractor and return the light fixtures for the higher price. If they couldn't get cash (because they had no receipt) they'd get a gift card and sell that for a slight discount elsewhere. The scam netted them maybe ~$400K over 18 months. Check out the link, it's a pretty interesting story.

Re:Doesn't add up (5, Interesting)

BinaryOpty (736955) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226185)

The possible reasons why the cashiers probably didn't notice are: 1. they don't care enough to name-match things they're scanning, 2. they didn't speak/read english well enough to know the difference, 3. the couple selected objects that had multiple versions spanning a price range (like buying a 512MB flash card with the price of a 128MB one), and 4. they used self checkouts (once Wal-mart implemented them). If they did bilk Wal-mart out of 1.5 million, then I'd say at least one of the four above were true at some point in their spree.

On the returns side, if they returned it for refunds sans reciept (like most stores will allow around Christmastime) then they could possibly do return them to make money.

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226265)

or 5. they had some assistance from the clerks. You know, if you get paid next to nothing, it doesn't take much to make you look the other way.

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

goon america (536413) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226199)

Maybe they could return the items without a receipt for store credit (for the original price), then use the credit to buy back more of the same items (at their "special" discount). Keep this going and you could get all of the store's inventory for just the investment of the "discounted" first few items.

Reminds me of that old David Letterman joke about Dan Quayle: Letterman suggested that one of the things a person should remember to do if ever to meet Mr. Quayle was to ask him for change of two tens for a five; Repeat until rich. I suppose that this was what this couple was trying to do, just using Walmart instead of Dan Quayle.

Re:Doesn't add up (0, Redundant)

jim_v2000 (818799) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226201)

Because these are underpaid Wal-Mart cashiers. They really couldn't care less if a tv rings up as 2 bucks or 200 bucks. Especially if they are busy.

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

OverlordQ (264228) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226225)

I dont think they were *that* stupid, especially if they did this for 10 years. What I'm guessing what they would do is find very similar items, that at a quick glance look the same, and slap their modified barcode on the more expensive item, and/or slap a higher price on the cheaper item. I mean I dont know about you but most cashiers just ring the stuff up, they dont analyze every single item they ring up. They just want to hear that *beeeeep*

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

obeythefist (719316) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226291)

Find a $100 TV and a $200 TV.

Print the label for the $100 TV, stick it onto the $200TV. Buy the TV at Walmart A.

Lose receipt.

Remove fake label.

Take TV to Walmart B. Refund for $200 (or $200 gift certificate).

Go to Walmart C. Buy two $200 TV's for $100 each...

Re:Doesn't add up (5, Interesting)

TrentC (11023) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226236)

I used to work at Fry's Electronics, and we had a pair of thieves who did this.

They'd paste the UPC of a lower-priced item over the sticker of a higher-priced item of similar make (handhelds were good for this). Even if the checker was looking at the display, you might not catch the fact that the model numbers on the PDAs didn't match. The guys at the door didn't always catch it either.

Basically, they took advantage of two things at my location: the fact that relabelling items that had price changes did not always happen 100% (the result being that sometimes an item scanned at a different price than was ont he sticker; and believe me, I handled plenty of customers who complained that the CD/DVD/software that said $19.99 on the sticker rang up at $29.99) and the fact that many items Fry's purchased were often bought at clearance or through a special arrangement, so oftentimes the items had custom stickers over the original barcode.

So you have A) items that legitimately had UPC stickers on them, and B) items that scanned at different prices. It was a recipe for disaster; we only caught them when someone noticed them sticking a label on a product.

Jay (=

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

djupedal (584558) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226243)

I don't understand how the cashiers didn't catch on.

The cashiers are part of the con - crook #1 goes to work at WalMart, and then crook B goes to A's register/checkout lane. Scan, pay small money, leave, rinse, repeat.

And before you think you can do it too, this hole has already been plugged - think up your own scam.

Re:Doesn't add up (2, Funny)

UniverseIsADoughnut (170909) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226251)

You could pass a nuclear warhead across the scanner and have it come up as a ethernet card for $9.95 and most cashiers there would never notice.

Re:Doesn't add up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11226345)

Good call... Why are you my foe???

Re:Doesn't add up (3, Insightful)

ErikZ (55491) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226264)


When you pay your workers as little as possible, they don't give a damn.

Re:Doesn't add up (1)

PerlDudeXL (456021) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226293)

hmm. under-paid cashiers/clerks working countless hours smiling around with a mental vaccum.

might have several reasons.

this is like taking the expensive bananas and
selecting the cheap ones for checkout (you get a printed label with the product and its weight).
I'm not sure how many cashiers realize this type of cheating when you checkout.

Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (1, Informative)

thewldisntenuff (778302) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226145)

One would assume it would be pretty hard for your Joe Sixpack to go out and just print these things willy-nilly. How hard is it to make these things? TFA doesnt say anything, but were they using pre-existing UPCs and copying them, or is it relatively easy to forge/copy UPC codes to ones liking...

Furthermore, Im suprised they werent caught earlier. Itd be pretty damn hard to get those past some sort of return. Hell, I took a DVD back to WalMart after Christmas and they wanted my drivers license number (I left the tin foil hat at home :) ), so one would assume they would have gotten caught sooner.....

-thewldisntenuff

Re:Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (1)

idolcrash (836925) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226159)

I believe there are programs that do that for you, they have the other products you can search for or something.

Re:Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11226169)

C'mon, it's Walmart! You honestly expect the cashiers to pay attention, when management keeps them under 40 hours, understaffed and underpaid? I can see how this wasn't picked up sooner.

Re:Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (5, Funny)

stupidfoo (836212) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226175)

Are you new to computers?

That weird box sitting on your desk is called a "printer". Some of these "printers" can even print "pictures".

Now look at a UPC. It's made up of black lines (the numbers are just for show) which is about the easiest thing to print in the world. Now, look in your desk drawer for "Glue".

I think you can figure it out from there. If not, this topic has been covered ad-nasuem in 2600 for about the past 10 years (or longer?). Hell, skip the computer. You can make them with a black pen if you're bored. I've done so and tested them out when I worked in retail. It's really not that tough.

Re:Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11226176)

Um, UPC's are not serial #'s - the #/UPC bar code is the same for every indentical item.

Re:Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (4, Insightful)

Frostalicious (657235) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226181)

One would assume it would be pretty hard for your Joe Sixpack to go out and just print these things willy-nilly.

All you need is a barcode printer and some software which are publicly available for a few hundred dollars, like from these guys [idautomation.com] . Get a UPC number off a pack of chewing gum and put the sticker on a mountain bike. The hard part is finding a checker who won't notice. I can't figure out that one.

Re:Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (4, Insightful)

cmallinson (538852) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226231)

Get a UPC number off a pack of chewing gum and put the sticker on a mountain bike. The hard part is finding a checker who won't notice. I can't figure out that one.

I think the cashier would notice you paying for the plasma TV with a $5 bill. That's what differentiates dumb criminals, and the ones you don't usually find out about. You don't swap the code from a $1 item with 1 $3000 item. You take the sticker off a 17 inch lcd, and put it on a 19 inch one. I wouldn't even put the sticker on there permanently. It just has to be the first sticker the cashier sees. Once it's scanned, get rid of the evidence. Walmart is the perfect place to do this. They sell everything, and pay their people nothing, so the cashier will likely not have a clue what you are doing.

Re:Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (1)

OverlordQ (264228) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226232)

You definately wouldn't make a good thief. I dont think they were *that* stupid, especially if they did this for 10 years. What I'm guessing what they would do is find very similar items, that at a quick glance look the same, and slap their modified barcode on the more expensive item, and/or slap a higher price on the cheaper item. I mean I dont know about you but most cashiers just ring the stuff up, they dont analyze every single item they ring up. They just want to hear that *beeeeep*

Re:Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (1)

Jasonv (156958) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226248)

I'm guessing you find a high-end sony DVD player with all the latest options, and stick on bar code for the $89.99 DVD on special.

It's even simpler than that. (4, Interesting)

H0NGK0NGPH00EY (210370) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226274)

It's even simpler than that. One summer about 8 years ago when I was in high school, I sat down and decoded the UPCs of a few products in an afternoon. Once you know what the codes are, it's trivial to draw your own bar codes using MS Paint. You can then print them off using any old ink-jet printer. Don't believe me? This [timandjeni.com] is the page that I wrote up after figuring it all out. I made the UPC graphics on that page using just Paint. I also printed off some test barcodes using the cheapo inkjet we had, and ran them by the "price checker" thingys in the local Target. They scanned no problem.

I've wondered for years whether it would really be that easy to get away with switching UPCs just like this. I guess the answer is "pretty easy." Of course, if you get as greedy as these people did, you're obviously going to get caught before too long.

Re:It's even simpler than that. (5, Informative)

H0NGK0NGPH00EY (210370) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226290)

Oh, one more thing I forgot to mention. This wasn't available 10 years ago of course, but now you can just write the number under a UPC code down, then go to Google and type it in, and viola, auto-generated UPC graphic, ready for printing. Try it out. [google.com]

Re:Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226323)

Not many cashiers really thinks about what they are selling in a supermarket. "red box, red box, green box, blue box, cucumber, thingamajing, blob... etc..."

So if a box that normally costs $225 is sold for $65, they actually don't notice (in most cases). Same goes for things like meat that is sold on a weight basis, where the UPC/EAN code contains the actual price instead.

I have had an idea about changing the barcode on a box of cornflakes and set a barcode pricing it to about $100 or so and then try to see the reaction, but the hard thing is to first apply the label and then track the box. A typical candid camera trick!

In my opinion, this is only the tip of an iceberg. I'm not at all surprised, and this is probably occuring on a daily basis. On the other hand, some vendors are trying to rip off their customers too.

---
"Never underestimate the power of human stupidity." - Lazarus Long

Re:Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (1)

zakezuke (229119) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226354)

The hard part is finding a checker who won't notice. I can't figure out that one. Get a UPC number off a pack of chewing gum and put the sticker on a mountain bike

Perhaps you have more observant checkers then I do. My experence has been they are brain dead zombies that drag an item across the scanner and wait for a beep. Sometimes when it beeps error they don't notice. They don't bother to look at the screen to see the item description and sometimes using the hand scanner they accidently scan in everything around you including the stuff on the impulse buy rack.

While I have never tried to buy a mountain bike for the price of a pack of gum, it wouldn't shock me if someone else has tried and it worked.

Re:Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (1)

broller (74249) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226213)

Yes, it's that simple. There are many programs to print UPC barcodes and many legit reasons to do so.

Here's [labelmagic.net] one I've heard of.

Many bargain hunters print up a page of dozens of bar codes for various items. When watching for a price drop, they can enjoy checking prices on the scanners in store without having to go pick up each product. As long as you have the numbers printed below the bar code you can generate the bars easily. Sometimes fellow bargain hunters post specific bar code numbers in forum messages and others will replicate the code to check the price in their local store.

Strangely I was JUST thinking about this type of scam in a store this afternoon. With most big stores in my area going to the self check-out model, I only see this getting worse.

Re:Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11226220)

you dont even need that.

Scan in a tiff of a barcode of product thats cheaper.

Print said graphic a million times.

profit.

Re:Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11226241)

Self checkout will prevent this. Every self checkout machine I've seen makes you put the item on a scale after you scan it and it knows the weight of each item. If you put your keys on the bagging area, it will complain, if you have the Kleenex leaning partially off the scale, it will complain. Unless you use prices for cheaper items with the same weight (RAM would probably work in most instances) self checkout won't work, while end-of-shift cashier will.

Re:Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (1)

broller (74249) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226353)

Good point, except for the fatal flaw in the system: Every single time I've seen an error with the weight, which is usually about once per trip to the grocery self-checkout, the human manning the guard station monitor just blindly hits the override. This is the same as the end-of-shift cashier exploit, but slightly easier. With one sleepy cashier in charge of four or more scanners in most cases, it would be easy to set up a distraction on one of the other scanners to get their attention away from you and increase the chances of them blindly hitting the override. This becomes difficult with multiple items.

Items too large to put on the scanner (tv's, etc) would work best, since you can tell the machine you can't fit it in the bags and leave it in the cart. The trick would be finding something large enough to bypass the size\weight limit without spending all of your profit away paying for large items. Those $25 microwaves on a $400 DVD player sound like a good work around.

Re:Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (1)

belmolis (702863) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226278)

Since the information is being processed by a computer anyhow, can't they prevent fraud by encrypting the information represented by the barcode? That would prevent people from simply printing up their own tags. Of course, they could look around the store for something with the price they want and copy that tag, but at least that would cost them an extra trip to the store. And this tactic could be dealt with by combining the price and product code information before encryption so that even if someone copied a tag with the right price it wouldn't have the right product code.

Re:Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (1)

rzebram (828885) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226221)

It's incredibly easy, sometimes trivial, depending on the type of barcode. For example, Code 39 barcodes (not quite sure about any other ones, anybody else know?) are implemented using only a font, so all you have to do is type in some numbers and print it out on a label.

Re:Is it that simple to make UPC codes? (1)

zakezuke (229119) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226330)

TFA doesnt say anything, but were they using pre-existing UPCs and copying them, or is it relatively easy to forge/copy UPC codes to ones liking

I've been meaning to research this issue. When I print off coupons from the store's website, the checkers get annoyed with the fact they don't scan [inserts2online.com] . I know I can print off barcodes, but I don't have the same style barcode as UPC uses, I have something called 3 of 9 [state.mn.us] . The last time I looked into it software and fonts for anything like UPC required a massive license fee.

I've used 3 of 9 in small libraries. It worked very well from a 600dpi laser, well from a 300dpi laser, and OK from an inkjet. In theory you can get fonts that automaticly calculate checksums for UPC and ISBN.

I would imagine that joe six pack just used their inkjet and got some software to make UPC barcodes, slapped them on packages and let the checker scan them.

SNL (1)

Zorilla (791636) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226149)

I think these guys were watching too many Saturday Night Live faux commercials.

Oh, well. At least they weren't selling Bass-O-Matic '76s on the internet.

Im guilty too (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11226153)

I have done this at home depot on electrical and plumbing items but I use the upc's off other cheaper items.

LOL (1)

opweirdisntit (780341) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226154)

No matter how stupid it all is in the big picture(tm) thats a pretty smart operation LOL:P Although any dimwit with half a brain should have caught it on their reciept-assuming theres an inconsistancy other than the price of the item...

This just in! (1, Funny)

teknokracy (660401) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226164)

1.5 billion dollar scheme bilks American consumers - Wal Mart allegedly is selling crappy items for money!

not that surprising.... (2)

Vash_066 (816757) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226173)

I've bought stuff at walmart and the cashier has gone so far as to toss stuff over the scanner with out it being rung up. You just have to go in at the right time. If you can find a cashier thats rushing thru the customers and not paying attention you could probably pull this off very easily. And I've had a few friends return stuff they didn't even buy at walmart and get cash or store credit. Same thing applies...just wait till they are busy.

Will RFID help them out of this ?? (2, Interesting)

Nikker (749551) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226174)

Now with all the contreversy will they be safe once it all runs on RFID?

Or will we all be able to do the same just from outside the store ??

idiots + crime = caught (3, Insightful)

FuturePastNow (836765) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226179)

returned it for refunds or store gift cards that also were sold

That's how they got caught. This was actually a fairly original idea; if they'd used it very sparingly, and only kept the items for themselves, they most likely would never have been caught at it. Most criminals' undoing is in not knowing when to stop.

Re:idiots + crime = caught (1)

robslimo (587196) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226206)

Most criminals' undoing is in not knowing when to stop.

That and that these folks had too many accomplices. Let's say the original 4 people decided they had stolen enough and got out. Guaranteed, there will be others who won't quit, will get caught and sure as shootin, they'll rat out anyone else they know who is or was involved.

Oh, well. Them's the breaks in a life of crime.

Use similar items (2, Insightful)

jamesbulman (103594) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226184)

This works if you put new barcodes on for similar (but cheaper) items. For example, stick the barcode for a Sony ultra-cheapo DVD player on a Sony top-of-the-range DVD player. No checkout assistant is going to notice/care.

Re:Use similar items (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11226321)

I once thought about the potential power that was held in a simple sharpie. If one could understand the pattern behind barcodes and how they corespond to the numbers, then it would be theoretically possible to change a UPC barcode with a sharpie. I had this brilliant idea of screwing with wal-mart or some department store by changing barcodes to something similar but cheaper, with nothing but a sharpie.

Before I learned the patterns, i got bored and became very busy with school. Needless to say, my sharpie adventure never took place.

done in by greed (2, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226188)

it's hard to stop using a drug, from quitting a winning streak at the casino, from selling a rising stock, or from successfully bilking walmart of over hundreds of thousands of dollars over the span of a decade

the greatest enemy to a criminal or anybody on a power trip is himself

kid's play (3, Insightful)

thetzar (30126) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226196)

I did this when I was about 8 years old; swapped the price tag for one thing that I could afford (that was like $1) over another which I wanted (which was like $5). The sales drone didn't notice, but the guilt was enough to keep me from doing it again.

Fancier bells and whistles, but this is the same thing. It'll be interesting to see how they pulled off bilking one of the defining features of UPC codes which I didn't have to deal with: When scanned, the register should display a description of the product. The answer was probably lazy/unmotivated register drones. Some things never change.

Bebeep! (5, Funny)

trs9000 (73898) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226200)

what kind of television is this? Bebeep! oh oh its a... toaster....? huh... oh man is that a ten-speed? Bebeep!... no.. huh... tricycle... Oh.... alright a Lindows machine!!.... Bebeep!... n-no?.... i see... 5 gallon jar of pickles....

Greedy yankdot (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11226202)

Why do they use other people's bandwidth to sell ads?

Too bad Re-code.com isn't still around! (4, Interesting)

cdf12345 (412812) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226208)

I saw the guys who did Re-code.com at 2600's 5th hope this summer in NYC. Basically you could create a barcode for any item, and print them.

Finally they closed down because of pressure from walmart and huge legal fees needed to fight them.

But they got their point across, so I could see someone doing this quite easily. Now I'm wondering how they got caught.

I think the best thing to do it go to a walmart and just sticker random items, so that random people are buying the altered items.

There's a 10 min video on Re-code.com about the case. It's worth a quick viewing.
Seems like a way to say "I didnt put the sticker there!"

Re:Too bad Re-code.com isn't still around! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11226286)

I think the best thing to do it go to a walmart and just sticker random items, so that random people are buying the altered items.
Statement is true, for strange values of "best".

Statement is true, for strange values of "best". (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11226352)

I agree. If we adhere to higher principles, then here is a much better example :

"Wal-Mart is the best place to shop".

Self-checkout fraud possible (5, Interesting)

turtlboy (845018) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226214)

I worked at a Wal-Mart for a while as a cashier. Our store had 4 self-checkout machines where you ring up the items yourself. One cashier was assigned to "Paystation" where people could pay with checks, and other assorted stuff the machines couldn't handle. When working at the Paystation, you were given a barcode card which when scanned would bring up an admin-like menu with price override options and other assorted "cashier" tasks. At one point, I scanned that barcode at my register, printed a receipt to show the number it represented, took that home and recreated it on my computer and printed a new version. I taped it on the back of my name tag, and it worked like a charm. Here's the scary thing: Cash Office also used a barcode for those machines to refund money, etc. They could literally empty the machine of cash with their card. If one took a picture of their card (which usually was worn around the neck in plain sight), it wouldn't be hard to recreate the bar code without knowing the numbers. Talk about fraud potential... I almost wanted to do it as a proof-of-concept, but thought that just being caught with the barcode would get me in big trouble, so I didn't end up trying.

Solution (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11226259)

1. Make custom THX1138 T-Shirt (with the bar code cover).
2. ???*
3. Profit!

* Scan your fucking shirt.

Re:Self-checkout fraud possible (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11226301)

The Tesco's (UK) supermarket near me has recently installed 3 lanes of these self checkout machines but the items are weighed after being scanned and the machine will refuse to proceed if the weight doesn't match up to what its expecting.

seriously. (1)

edrugtrader (442064) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226224)

best. idea. ever.

if everyone used this, and the software was perfect, everyone would own a car within 1 block of their house and probably pay 1/10th as much.

CANT SOMEONE GET EVERYONE BEHIND THIS?!

Let the buyer be aware! (3, Interesting)

Homer's Donuts (838704) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226249)

Reminds me of the stories in the early 70's of people changing their utility bills. Bills came printed on punch (IBM, Hollerith) cards. [wikipedia.org]

"Enterprising" students would run them thru keypunch machines [wikipedia.org] and make the number negative or add a decimal point.

These machines are also the origin of the "hanging chad". [wikipedia.org] Always check your input. Like the state of Florida, Walmart could have caught this by auditing returns.

Re:Let the buyer be aware! (1)

eclectro (227083) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226295)

Walmart could have caught this by auditing returns.

I bet that the big RFID push they are making will help them do just that.

Wal-Mart, the apotheosis of mediocre consumption- (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11226277)

Ahhh... Wal Mart, and the mouth-breathing proles who worship consumption.

And if YOU shop at Wal-Mart, shame on you.

They cant afford 2 houses? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11226298)

They stole upwards of a million and a half dollars, and yet all 4 of them lived in one house?

Nigger Bait (-1, Offtopic)

zagmar (20261) | more than 9 years ago | (#11226346)

Wal-Mart is high-priced shit for niggers. Compared to the dollar store where they usually do their ghetto-shopping, Wal Mart is teh bomb.

Fuck wal mart, and fuck niggers.
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