Walmart Cash Back Scam - Urban Legends

The Truth About Cash Back Technology

Online rumors circulating since November 2004 claim cashiers at Walmart and other retail stores routinely steal money from customers by surreptitiously triggering the "cash back" option during credit or debit card transactions. This accusation is unsubstantiated.

Walmart Cash Back Scam: Analysis

For a scam so allegedly widespread and easy to pull off, there's precious little in the way of evidence to prove that it often occurs, if ever.

A search of newspaper archives going back 20 years retrieved only one confirmed crime report even vaguely resembling this issue, and in that case a grocery clerk was caught double-charging customers who verbally requested cash back at a Solebury, Pennsylvania supermarket in 2007.

A November 24, 2009 article in the Des Moines Register cited an anecdotal report of a fraudulent cash back transaction at a Des Moines retail store, but the details were sketchy and it's unclear whether the incident actually amounted to an attempted crime or was merely a cashier error.

The Technology of Cash Back

Point-of-Sale systems are more sophisticated than they once were, making it all but impossible for unscrupulous cashiers to put through cash-back transactions without the customers' knowledge. In most modern retail stores, including Walmart, customers swipe their own debit or credit cards and must personally initiate and confirm cash-back requests using the same device. The crime could conceivably occur at check-out stands where the clerk swipes the customer's card and enters cash-back requests manually, but these circumstances are becoming more rare.

These alerts, however, do offer one good bit of advice: Examine your receipts before leaving any commercial establishment there's no mistake or fishy charge.

Sample Emails About Walmart Scam

Here's sample email text contributed by S. Smith on Aug. 3, 2009:

FW: Pay attention to your receipts
Pay attention and look at your WALMART receipts...any receipts when you use ANY debit card or credit card
THIS IS TRUE! 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, and 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 and & 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. The supervisor came and and said I'd have to take it. I said NO! Taking the $40 would be a cash advance against my Discover and & 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 and & re-scan everything! The second time I looked at the electronic pad before I signed and & a cash-back of $20 popped up. At that point I told the cashier and & 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 and & at the end of her shift how much money she pocketed?
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, 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.

Here's an additional sample email about the purported scam l contributed by Ells on June 15, 2006

Subject: Wal Mart
A few weeks ago I got an e-mail about a scam that the cashiers at Wal Mart are pulling... you use your debit card w/o requesting cash back and the cashier does something on her/his machine that requests cash back and then puts your cash in their pocket... Well, it just happened to me at the Wal Mart on Rte. 40... I know darn well I hit no for cash back, watched the touch screen light up for "NO" cash back...but had I looked away I wouldn't have seen the next screen light up for $80 cash back.
I looked at it and said, "$80 cash back!!" I hit "NO"...the cashier says, "There must be something wrong with the machine b/c you're the 2nd person that happened to; the $80 button must be right above the word No."
No, its not...the "No" button is at the very bottom of the screen, nowhere near the dollar amounts for cash back... I just said, "GIVE ME MY $80!!" "GIVE-ME-MY-$80!!" so she goes back in the drawer for it... I was heated...but I always look at my receipt, I don't always watch the screen. But had I walked away and went back she may have tried to argue with me... Nevertheless, the e-mail is true...they are trying to cheat you when you use your debit card and since I know we all at SSA frequent that Walmart, I wanted to let you know its happening up there.

Sources and further reading:

Bankers Trust Issues Warning About 'Cash Back' Scam
Des Moines Register, November 24, 2009

13 Tips to Protect Yourself on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, November 26, 2008

Walmart Credit Card Account Benefits