back to article Man cops to $1m phony bar code shoplifting scheme

An Ohio man has admitted heading a conspiracy that netted more than $1m by using phony Universal Product Code labels to acquire store merchandise and then selling the booty on eBay. Tommy Joe Tidwell, 35, of Dayton, Ohio, pleaded guilty to three felony counts, including conspiracy to use unauthorized access devices, use of …


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  1. David Wilkinson

    Eventually you get caught

    There is all kinds of easy money like this to be made if you are willing to engage in criminal activity, but eventually you are doing to make a mistake or the police are going to get lucky. You only have to get caught once.

  2. Gareth Lowe


    Was this the guy buying Lego by sticking barcodes of cheaper Lego sets on the bigger sets?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Bar Code Battler

    Did the store staff not notice that their checkouts were blipping e.g. widescreen plasma televisions as if they were Pot Noodles? Yes, I assume he was much subtler than that, but it's a odd mental image... and I can't stop thinking of the bit at the beginning of The Simpsons where they blip Lisa.

  4. Frank

    Didn't the stores notice?

    "The doctored labels allowed the conspirators to buy the items for a fraction of the real price."

    I thought of this idea years ago but assumed that checkout staff would spot it as soon as it was tried. Now, this man comes along and makes $1m using it !

    I assume that some store's stock-taking had flagged up a discrepancy with the till revenue and that led to a deeper investigation, or maybe an eagle eyed checkout operator knew that a 32" lcd TV does not sell for only $40

    He made 522 e-Bay sales and netted $1m so he was making a profit of $2000 on each item?

    Was he putting $20 price labels on Rolex watches? I'd like to know more about this case so I can improve on his method. More details please.

  5. Apocalypse Later

    Bargain watch

    Take care with marked down items in the supermarket- barcode relabelling works both ways. If the label with the marked down price doesn't cover the original properly, the laser will usually read the original in preference to the dodgy, black on yellow one printed by the handheld re-labeller.

    If this happens in Tesco, take the item and receipt to the customer service desk and you will get the price you paid back and keep the item free. I got 24 cans of dog food free that way once, because the checkout guy scanned one can and multiplied by 24 instead of scanning the pack price. Other supermarkets will only refund the difference in price.

    On the other side, I used to be regularly undercharged on four-packs of orange juice as the four-pack barcode label often did not cover the one printed on one of the single containers. It got pretty tedious trying to get the staff to do something about this each time. The inertia of the human element is all that holds back the millennium.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Nothing new

    I remember 'friends' of mine that would buy C64 games at places like Boots the chemist (do they still sell games and stuff?). Back in those days, the price on the box was manually entered into the till. So a quick swap of stickers on a £9.99 game to make it £2.99 and bingo, you got a cheap game. Of course it had to be in places like Boots so their staff wouldn't know the difference between a new release and a budget title.

    Then again, when you could also copy games using an standard double tape deck, there were much easier ways to get cheap games back in the day :)

  7. Andrew Jones


    Its Maggie that gets scanned

    man thats sad that i know that

  8. b166er
    Paris Hilton


    You mean Maggie?

    Paris, 'cos I'd blip her.

  9. Anonymous John

    @ Eventually you get caught

    Unless you're a lad from Lagos.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Self checkout anyone?

    So, print your own barcode for a small amount, pick up your TV, attach fake barcode and walk to the self checkout lane.

    "the till operator will spot it" - you're the till operator and unless you're pretty dense, you aren't going to turn yourself in.

    NB My suggestions are not to be followed by anyone and may result in imprisonment and other unpleasant things happening.

    Also, most self checkouts do have a weight sensor "Please place item in the bagging area" so you'll need to find some other item that weighs the same as a TV. Or if you figure out the barcode encoding for reduced products you'll even have a valid receipt for the item at the low price and could take it back later if it went wrong. I don't think the "It was reduced because it was out of date" argument is going to work on a TV though...

    Just in case you didn't get it : Don't do this unles you are prepared to be arrested and go to prison.

  11. thefutureboy

    @Apocalypse Later

    Re Tesco refunds: That certainly used to be he case but I believe Tesco now only refund the difference (it may be double the difference).

  12. Joe Blogs


    Good story, however, what's the feedback got to do with it?

    @Ashley Pomeroy - Maggies gets scanned, not Lisa

  13. Simon Buttress
    Thumb Up

    Add me to the list of @ Ashley Pomeroy

    It's Maggie they blip, not Lisa!!!!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Probably going to be one of millions pointing it out, but , they blip Maggie, not Lisa :-)

    <smug grin>

  15. Gulfie

    But really,

    You need to figure in the intelligence level of the average checkout person. I've gone through my local Tesco with a box of six bottles of wine, the scanner registers the barcode on the outside of the box and charges one bottle at £5.99 and that is all I am charged for six bottles. Or the time I took a shrink-wrapped pack of four cartons of orange juice and was only charged for one. These people either don't have a brain, or have become zombies due to the low level of mental activity required to do the job.

  16. JohnG Silver badge

    I saw someone get caught

    I saw someone get caught doing this. The item rang up for a similar type of product that was much cheaper. The woman at the checkout just said "I know that's not right". The woman trying the scam tried to say she had no idea how the wrong label got there and then that she would leave the item but the shop assistant was having none of it and got security to stop her. I think they then called the police (I assume they had some video evidence of her tampering with the barcode).

  17. Sooty


    couldn't they think of anything better to charge him with?

    how do you get from printing dodgy barcode labels to conspiracy to use unauthorized access devices. I would have thought fraud would be more suited, or conspiracy to commit fraud

  18. Dan

    @AC Nothing new.

    I also had “friends” that pulled that same stunt with the old tapes games. Later on when we all owned Amigas they’d buy a game and copy it. Then format the disk before taking it back saying it didn’t work. Unless we had the same “friends” it’s now clear why Boots don’t have a PC and console section.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I love the idea...

    Of blipping an LCD TV and it showing as Tesco Value beans.

    Gotta go, shopping to do!

  20. Gordon Ross Silver badge

    Checkout operators don't watch the screen

    I did a stint at a large UK supermarket chain as a checkout operator as a summer job. A couple of things you all need to bear in mind.

    Firstly, checkout operators are timed. You have to scan a certain number of goods per minute. If you regularly fail to achieve a pre-set average, you can get fired.

    Secondly, when you are scanning items, you don't watch your screen. All you do is listen out for the "Beep"

    Finally: How is a checkout operator supposed to know the difference between a £4 bottle of plonk and a £40 bottle of plonk ?

    In our training, we were never told to read the screen to check what was coming up.

    Providing the crooks don't put a goods to weigh sticker on a 42" plasma, and the goods are buried in a big trolley load of other stuff, most checkout staff wouldn't spot it.

  21. g00p
    Thumb Down

    Why.. long in Jail??

    Aren't there dealers, terrorists, murderers and voilent psychos they could be concentrating on??

  22. Anonymous Coward

    You should never generalise

    There's a checkout jockey in a Morrisons near me that few Reg readers would count as braindead.

    Clocked my VC "fsck Linux" tee shirt and asked me "what distro?"

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Why would a cashier give a damn?

    If you worked on your feet all day, taking a wage barely (if even) better than the minimum, would you really care if someone ripped off your employers who probably make more in a day than you see all year?

  24. Moogal


    It's more the repetitive nature of the job than anything - you get into a rhythm and are pretty much working on autopilot.

    "Hello, would you like a bag" <bip bip bip> "That's £4.97 please. Thankyou... five o-three change and your receipt, bye" - repeat for 7 hours or so. Not difficult to let your mind wander.

  25. Jack Harrer


    What's the cheapest loose items? Onions... So...

    Go to self checkout put anything you want on scale and type on touch screen: Loose Items -> Onions. Get charged a fraction of the price. Works very well especially with light stuff. Electronics have security tags so doesn't work so well.

    Disclaimer: Never used the method (not my kind of play) but I've seen my friend doing it all the fricking time. Coming home with receipts with 20 lines (or so) of onions. LOL.

  26. Dave

    This sort of thing

    Is why places like Toys-R-Us will sell you a piece of card for £299, then direct you to a counter where you can swop it for the laptop PC you actually wanted, which is in a secure area with a single employee checking all the details, against the receipt and signing the goods out.

    Supermarkets do similar by selling empty DVD or CD cases which you can have filled on the way out at customer services.

    These stores must have been pretty clueless to allow people to walk out with TV's and other high value goods without even a cursory check

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    As kids we use to get dragged along on Saturday mornings for the weekly shop - not especially enjoyable for an 8 year old. We used to liven it up (pre barcode days) by swapping the plain, simple price tags round on items - a particular pleasure on the high value items like a joint of beef. Since the shelves then were not generally marked with the item price, there was no easy reference for prospective buyers (or staff) as to what the price actually was. To sow further confusion, you'd make sure you did half the jars of jam on one shelf, say. We didn't pass these savings on to our parents, as that would have entailed some impact therapy.

    In later life, while temporarily incarcerated in an especially nasty corner of the US, a nice trick to make a bit of cash used to be to buy something in one shop, then go to another that sold the identical item at a higher rate to get a refund. Back then you didn't generally need a receipt for low value items to return them and get a refund, and there were no constantly updated stock records. Kmart and Target were favourites as they'd both carry a lot of identical items, often with wildly varying prices - you could comfortably double 20 USD for the sake of half an hour's effort and a 10 minute drive on one item alone. While doubtless illegal, it had the advantage of being virtually unprovable in the days before CCTV, and since shafting others seems integral to the American Dream, it was largely guilt free.

  28. wayne

    Place your Onions on the belt.

    Local supermarket with self service lanes, after each item is scanned or weighed a loud announcement is made, "Place your onions [or whatever item] on the belt." The overseer looks over and notes, yup, onions.

  29. Anonymous Coward

    @ wayne & his onions

    I'd do it just to see the reaction....

    "Place your cucumber on the belt."

    "Place your KY jelly on the belt"

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