Category Archives: Hoaxes

Nothing New Under the Sun: The Walmart Cashback Hoax Lives

There are some hoaxes that just keep. Coming. BACK.

They’re like slasher-movie villains. “Oh, so you strapped him to a small nuclear warhead, which you then detonated inside a warehouse full of knives and lava? Well, here he is again…bigger and stronger than ever! Sequel number six, comin’ atcha!”

The “Bill Gates is giving money away to strangers” hoax recently went full Jason Voorhees, and according to my site traffic another slice of antique Internet alarmist lore has begun to resurface: the idea that Walmart cashiers all over the country are requesting $20 or $40 cash back on card transactions without telling the customer, and pocketing the money.

This so-called “scam warning” dates back to 2004, and made resurgences in 2009 and 2013. A quick online search shows that it’s making the rounds again in 2017. If you think of them as sequels, it makes this year’s version Walmart Cashback Scam Hoax IV: The Final Chapter, I guess.

(Only it’s never really the final chapter, is it? Watch for Walmart Cashback Scam Hoax V: A New Beginning in 2021 or so. By 2030 we’ll be on Bill Gates’ Free Money Vs. Walmart Cashback Hoax. And then a reboot after that…)

Here’s the whole problem with the warning: there is only one person who can request cash back during a transaction at Walmart, and it’s the customer, by pressing the correct button on the card swipe terminal. There is no secret “cash back” button on the register itself.

From Snopes.com:

We investigated a number of different WalMart stores in different areas…[i]n 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.

So why are so many people convinced they’ve been defrauded by greasy cashiers? Snopes again:

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.

Nobody likes to admit they made a mistake, do they? “There’s no way I pressed a button I didn’t intend to. I’m perfect. It was that mean ol’ cashier.”

Also, the typical Walmart cashier has more cameras pointed at them than a blackjack table at a casino. It would be an impressive feat of close-up magic indeed to be able to pull off this alleged scheme, even by reaching over and pressing the buttons on the swipe terminal for the customer. And if a cashier was doing that over and over, you can bet somebody would notice.

Furthermore, it fails the most basic test of all: the cashiers actually handed the correct cash back amount to the customer. From Snopes (last one, I promise):

[I]n 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).

Now, I’ll admit I haven’t seen everything this world has to offer, but I have yet to come across a scam where the basic mechanic is, “I’m going to let you keep the money that’s already yours, and then I get nothing.” Most real scams have a profit motive.

Further furthermore, many of the stories claim the customer was using a credit card. They specifically mention it because the overage would “count as a cash advance.” The problem is, as far as I know, you can only request cash back with a debit card during a retail purchase. Whatever those self-proclaimed victims thought was happening, it wasn’t that. Which may explain why this thing has gone (and continues to go) so viral: people see the warning, then something unusual happens during a purchase (an item rang up incorrectly, the cashier didn’t know the PLU for parsnips offhand, their debit card gets denied for insufficient funds) and they try to retro-fit their experience onto the thing they read earlier. “Yeah, that happened to me, too!”

Here’s one more clue that you’re looking at a hoax: the warning is often accompanied by the same image of a receipt from 2013, but it always happened “recently” to “someone I know.” All the receipt proves is that someone selected $40 as their cash back amount when prompted by the card terminal one day four years ago. There is nothing about it that proves a crime was committed.

Here’s the original article, of which I have pasted whole chunks into this article: http://www.snopes.com/fraud/atm/cashback.asp

Email Hoax Update: Bill Gates is Still Not Giving Away Free Money in 2017

I recently began tracking stats for this website again after a long stretch of not doing so. I hadn’t really been posting new articles very often, and when the program that I was using to track page views and the number of site visitors stopped functioning for whatever reason, I didn’t bother looking for a replacement.

This year, however, I started posting more regularly, and decided it was time to find a new stats plugin so I could at least see if I was putting out something of value. I got it all set up in early March, and recently I noticed that an article I wrote in 2009 about a certain email hoax was suddenly getting about ten times the usual daily traffic for the entire site. That could only mean one thing: it’s baaaaack.

This email chain letter hoax is a bona fide antique, dating back to at least 1999: forward this email and Bill Gates from Microsoft will give you something like $241 for each person you forward it to. It was supposed to have something to do with AOL and Intel, neither of which are affiliated with Microsoft.

Since this hoax is making the rounds again, I felt it was time to revisit the topic: Bill Gates is not giving away huge amounts of money to random people just for forwarding emails. For one thing, Microsoft doesn’t track every email sent. For another, would you? You do know how people get rich, right? Trade secret: it doesn’t involve giving millions in free money away to random strangers in return for nothing.

(I also wanted to write an update because the old article is simply brimming with corny attempts at humor. Not that I’m suddenly above that sort of thing. I’ve probably actually only gotten worse in eight years.)

Anyway, the full, error-ridden text of this ancient email hoax is here:

THIS TOOK TWO PAGES OF THE TUESDAY USA TODAY – IT IS FOR REAL

Subject: PLEEEEEEASE READ!!!! it was on the news!

To all of my friends, I do not usually forward messages, But this is from my good friend Pearlas Sandborn and she really is an attorney.

If she says that this will work – It will work. After all, What have you got to lose? SORRY EVERYBODY.. JUST HAD TO TAKE THE CHANCE!!! I’m an attorney, And I know the law. This thing is for real. Rest assured AOL and Intel will follow through with their promises for fear of facing a multimillion-dollar class action suit similar to the one filed by PepsiCo against General Electric not too long ago.

Dear Friends; Please do not take this for a junk letter. Bill Gates sharing his fortune. If you ignore this, You will repent later. Microsoft and AOL are now the largest Internet companies and in an effort to make sure that Internet Explorer remains the most widely used program, Microsoft and AOL are running an e-mail beta test.

When you forward this e-mail to friends, Microsoft can and will track it ( If you are a Microsoft Windows user) For a two weeks time period.

For every person that you forward this e-mail to, Microsoft will pay you $245.00 For every person that you sent it to that forwards it on, Microsoft will pay you $243.00 and for every third person that receives it, You will be paid $241.00. Within two weeks, Microsoft will contact you for your address and then send you a check.

 thought this was a scam myself, But two weeks after receiving this e-mail and forwarding it on. Microsoft contacted me for my address and withindays, I receive a check for $24,800.00. You need to respond before the beta testing is over. If anyone can affoard this, Bill gates is the man.

It’s all marketing expense to him. Please forward this to as many people as possible. You are bound to get at least $10,000.00. We’re not going to help them out with their e-mail beta test without getting a little something for our time. My brother’s girlfriend got in on this a few months ago. When i went to visit him for the Baylor/UT game. She showed me her check. It was for the sum of $4,324.44 and was stamped “Paid in full”

Like i said before, I know the law, and this is for real.

Intel and AOL are now discussing a merger which would make them the largest Internet company and in an effort make sure that AOL remains the most widely used program, Intel and AOL are running an e-mail beta test.

When you forward this e-mail to friends, Intel can and will track it (if you are a Microsoft Windows user) for a two week time period.

Yep. It was a hoax in 1999, just like it was a hoax in 2009, and just like it’s still a hoax in 2017 and will be forever. If you get it, don’t believe a word of it. Don’t forward it “just in case” or because “it doesn’t hurt to try.” Delete it, and let whoever forwarded it to you know that it is a hoax.

Don’t let ‘em coax
You with a hoax, blokes
Make one keystroke:
Hit ‘delete,’ folks.

Nobody is using keyrings with tracking devices to stake out burglary victims

You could also call this post, “Sometimes, even the authorities and the news media get roped in by a hoax.”

I’ve got some Google Alerts set up to help me find interesting topics for potential articles. While digging through the past week’s results, I ran across this item, from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: LPD warns locals of possible new scam.

If you don’t want to click the link, here’s the crux: “These criminals are handing out key rings that have tracking devices inside them. This way, the criminals are able to know where their targets are at all times if they are carrying the key ring.”

Well, I’ve heard of this one before. First in a forwarded email from my mom, then at Snopes: Key Crime.

Again, if you’re not interested in reading the whole thing, here’s the really basic jist:

snopes-false

Or, if you’d like a little more detail, this sums it up nicely (emphasis mine):

Aside from some technologically questionable aspects to these warnings, one prominent point of skepticism is the lack of obvious utility behind the scheme – that is, how would the ability to track unknown, randomly-selected motorists facilitate the commission of burglaries and carjackings? Especially since both of those crimes are overwhelmingly crimes of opportunity, engaged in as perpetrators spot or stumble across their chances, rather than crimes typically pursued through the elaborate staking out and tracking of targets.

So it’s a hoax. Please spread the word whenever you see this in an article, or when it shows up on Facebook, or when your mom forwards it to you.

The real issue, however, is the fact that, apparently,  nobody researches anything. In the article from Lubbock, it cites the Fort Worth PD as a source. So someone there got this forwarded email, passed it around, and then somebody told the newspaper. And nobody along that path checked it out, or even thought, “Man, this doesn’t sound at all like the way burglars and carjackers actually work.”

So you might say, “But isn’t it okay to just believe all the hoaxes, so then you’ll always be prepared for everything?”

I don’t agree. Mental energy is a finite resource, and if you waste all yours freaking out about your keychains, you’ll have less to spend on actually being vigilant in a useful, productive way. The point of fraud prevention is not to go through life in a state of sustained panic. It’s about being cautious, calm and skeptical of wild claims.

It’s also a bad habit to believe everything you see on the Internet, because that’s exactly what scammers want. Hey, if believing the keychain hoax is harmless, why not believe the email about investing in Iraqi Dinars, too? After all, the person who sent you the message SAID “this is not a scam,” right there in the message they typed, right?

Hoaxes are destructive. Don’t believe them, and please don’t spread them.