Fact Check

Cash Back Scam

Can store cashiers steal from customers by secretly initiating cash back requests and then pocketing the money?

Published Dec 2, 2004

Store cashiers commonly steal from customers by secretly initiating cash back requests and then pocketing the money.

Versions of a "Walmart cash back scam" warning have been circulating since late 2004, all of them featuring the scenario of a WalMart customer who uses a credit/debit card that is charged for a cash back amount even though the shopper did not request cash back and was handed no cash by the cashier, with the discrepancy being noticed only when the shopper spots the added cash back amount on the receipt:

Something happened to me this past weekend that I wanted to alert everyone I know to be on the look-out for while shopping at Wal Mart, especially during the busy holiday season. This trip I had a buggy full buying stuff to outfit the deer camp and the usual purchases for home, in other words I had over $200 worth of goods to buy. When I checked out, I ran my Wal Mart credit card through the machine and pressed "No" to the question of "Do you want $20 cash back?"

The checker fooled around with the register and then asked me to run the card again because it did not work the first time. I don't recall pressing "No" again or even if the question came up on the card terminal. My biggest concern at that time was making sure I picked up all the bags around that carousel they use to bag your purchases. While I was moving my bags back to the cart, I didn't pay any attention to my receipt. Anyway, the next morning I looked at my receipt (I usually just throw it away without looking at it!) There was a line on it that read "$20.00 Cash Back" and another that said "Change Due 20.00."

I called the manager and told him what happened and that I did not request $20.00 back, nor did I get $20.00 back. He did not seem a bit surprised. It seems that is a scheme the cashiers use to slip $20.00 in their pockets at the customers expense. The manager said I could come back to the store for the credit but now I wonder how many times this has happened to me in the past that I did not catch. I am not sure if the cashier can override the "No" or if she charged the extra $20.00 during the second swipe of the card. At least this time, she got caught the next day but I would have loved to have caught her in the act the day it happened.

Please pay attention to your receipt and don't let these thieves steal your hard earned money!!

Just to alert everyone. My co worker went to Milford DE Walmart last week. She had her items rung up by the cashier. The cashier hurried her along and didn't give her a receipt. She asked the cashier for a receipt and the cashier was annoyed and gave it to her. My co worker didn't look at her receipt until later that night. The receipt showed that she asked for $20 cash back. SHE DID NOT ASK FOR CASH BACK. My co worker called Walmart who investigated but could not see the cashier pocket the money. She then called her niece who works for the bank and her niece told her this. There is a scam going on. The cashier will ask for cash back and hand it to her friend who is the next person in line. Please, Please, please check your receipts right away when using debit cards. The store has the cashier under investigation now. We can only pray that she is caught very soon.

I am adding to this. My husband and I were in WalMart North Salisbury and paying with credit card when my husband went to sign the credit card signer he just happen to notice there was a $20 cash back added. He told the cashier that he did not ask nor want cash back and she said this machine has been messing up and she canceled it. We really didn't think anything of it until we read this email. Please be aware.

It happened to me at Wal-Mart (Supercenter Store #1279, 10411 N Freeway 45, Houston, TX 77037) a month ago. I bought a bunch of stuff, over $150, & I glanced at my receipt as the cashier was handing me the bags. I saw a cash-back of $40. I told her I didn't request a cash back & to delete it. She said I'd have to take the $40 because she couldn't delete it. I told her to call a supervisor. Supervisor came & said I'd have to take it. I said NO! Taking the $40 would be a cash advance against my Discover & I wasn't paying interest on a cash advance!!!!! If they couldn't delete it then they would have to delete the whole order. So the supervisor had the cashier delete the whole order & re-scan everything! The second time I looked at the electronic pad before I signed & a cash-back of $20 popped up. At that point I told the cashier & she deleted it. The total came out right. The cashier agreed that the electronic pad must be defective. Obviously the cashier knew the electronic pad was defective because she NEVER offered me the $40 at the beginning. Can you imagine how many people went through before me & at the end of her shift how much money she pocketed?

In concept, this item was similar to an earlier piece which spread the false claim that gas stations were imposing surreptitious $10.00 surcharges on credit card customers. The similarity is that in both cases, it appears that an erroneous "scam" rumor originated because a customer misunderstood or misinterpreted something that happened to her while shopping and, despite not having any evidence of a deliberate attempt to defraud, was quick to write and circulate a message erroneously accusing retailers of wrongdoing.

We investigated a number of different WalMart stores in different areas (along with outlets of other general merchandising and grocery store chains), and we spoke with (both in person and via e-mail) numerous people who were currently working as cashiers for a number of different retailers, including WalMart. In not one single case did we find a store with a checkout system that allowed cashiers to initiate cash back transactions on customers' cards on their own, without any involvement, knowledge, or approval on the customer's part. There was simply no way for a cashier working at any of these businesses to surreptitiously place a cash back charge on a customer's card and furtively pocket the money, all without the customer's requesting or knowing about it. As various WalMart cashiers told us:

We CANNOT request cash back. The "buttons" that you press to say no [to the "Do you want cash back?" prompt] or request a [cash back] amount are very close together. People accidently press the wrong ones all the time. We as cashiers have no control over this. Also, if you look up on the pole that has the register number on it, there is a black bubble. THAT is a camera that they use to watch us. They check those all the time. The only way we could steal the customer's money would be to print their check for more than the total. That could be easily checked by the customer when we hand it back to them.

On the article about the "Cash Back Scam", I have been a Walmart cashier for 13 years now, and have had many odd things happen — but in NO case, as you stated in your article — have I ever seen a customer get cash back without asking for it, either accidentally or on purpose.

Even if a customer does hand us their debit card, we still are unable to ask for extra cash back. It is always initiated on the customer's side. We never have any control over this.

We have been accused of it when a customer isn't expecting cash back, but to my knowledge, it is simply impossible for us to actually ask for extra cash back off their card.

In every case of customers' complaining about getting cash back from credit/debit card purchases without having requested it that we were able to track down, the cause turned out to be that those customers didn't pay close enough attention to the prompts on the card processing keypads or simply pressed the wrong keys by mistake. And in nearly every one of those cases it was verifiable that the complaining customers had in fact been handed the appropriate amount of cash back by their cashiers (even though they insisted they hadn't requested it).

It is possible (and sometimes occurs) that a cashier will actually reach over and manipulate the customer keypad herself to initiate a cash back request unbeknownst to the customer, but this form of theft requires that the customer's attention be completely diverted elsewhere, and it can't be done surreptitiously — the action takes place in full view of other employees, customer, and security cameras (and hence such perpetrators are easily caught).

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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