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What would you do if a self-checkout machine accidentally gave you too much change? Keep the extra and be thankful for your good fortune? Alert a store employee and give it back?

Or return to that same self-checkout over and over again, and keep getting incorrect change to the tune of thousands of dollars?

That’s the choice that a group of Walmart shoppers in Florida made – and now police are looking for them.

Investigators in the city of Winter Haven say a group of eight people “who appear to be family or close friends” did some shopping at a local Walmart last weekend. And when they went to pay for their purchases at a self-checkout machine – they hit the jackpot.

Surveillance video shows a man in the group checking out, paying cash, getting his change, walking away – and then quickly coming back. He shows his change to another man in the group as that man is checking out, then that man pays and inspects his own change.

And then the entire group appears to go on a spending spree, going through self-checkout one after another, each of them buying just one item at a time.

So what was the appeal of this particular self-checkout machine? It turns out someone at Walmart screwed up. Police say an employee accidentally put a stack of $20 bills inside the machine where $5 bills should have gone. So when the first man should have received a $5 bill as part of his change, he actually got a twenty.

“Finding this obvious windfall, honest people would immediately alert the sales associate to the error – but not this group,” police said. Instead, “they all start lining up to pay for one small item each in order to receive change that should include $5, knowing they would instead receive a $20 bill.”

This went on for more than 20 minutes and dozens of transactions, during which time the group managed to pocket a combined total of $1,100.

Eventually, they left the store. And only later did Walmart realize what had happened. Now police are publicizing the surveillance photos in the hopes of identifying the shoppers.

Police say the suspects arrived at the store in two separate vehicles. Five are adults and three are children. “Let’s just hope the little ones didn’t really understand the gravity of what had occurred,” police said.

But local residents appear to be divided over whether the suspects should be held criminally responsible at all.

“What’s the crime?” one commenter wrote on the police department’s Facebook page. “They didn’t take anything… the machine gave it to them.” Instead of looking for the shoppers, another commenter said, Walmart should “fire the idiot employee who messed up.”

Others disagreed. “Stealing is stealing,” one commenter insisted. “They should have stuck with the $20 they had and called it a night,” another aded. “However, they became greedy and continued to take money that doesn’t belong to them.”

Walmart has had its share of problems with self-checkout machines before. There was the man in Florida a few years ago who became enraged and attacked a shopper in front of him for trying to buy 22 items at a “20 items or less” self-checkout. An angry shopper in Tennessee attacked the self-checkout machine itself, when it told him to wait for an employee’s assistance and there were no employees to be found.

And of course, Walmart self-checkouts are the checkouts of choice for many coupon criminals, who find it easier to use incorrect or counterfeit coupons when there’s no cashier around to see them.

But this may be the first known case of a self-checkout spitting out $20 bills like an ATM.

Police haven’t said what the suspects in this case might be charged with, but they’re asking anyone who recognizes them to give investigators a call at 1-800-226-TIPS. Tipsters “could be eligible for a cash reward,” police say.

And hopefully, if this case has taught them anything, police will count that cash very carefully before handing it over.

One Comment

  1. Robin Hood says:

    Don’t feel sorry for the Waltons. Richest family in the world , hundreds of billions, and still look for more by trying to get US to checkout our own groceries, when they could be giving more cashiers jobs.

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