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Four charged over $1.5m Wal-Mart price switch scam

Bogus bar codes used to plunder stores

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Two US couples have been arrested on suspicion of masterminding a price switching scam involving counterfeit bar codes estimated to have cost Wal-Mart stores across 19 US states a total of $1.5m over the last decade.

Sisters Julie Marie Simmons (AKA Julie Poore), 35, and Laura Simmons Howerton, 39, and their husbands Michael Poore, 29, and Dewey Howerton, 39 were arrested in Nashville, Tennessee and charged with the theft of $60,000 in connection with the scam, AP reports. Investigators suspect the two couples and up to 30 accomplices systematically plundered Wal-Mart and two other unnamed retail chains for years and stole much more than this.

The gang allegedly used a home PC to duplicate bar codes for cheap products which were placed over the genuine bar codes of more expensive items. Merchandise bought "on the cheap" was either returned for refunds, exchanged for vouchers or sold on at a profit. Police reckon the ring escaped detection for years partly by visiting shops at their busiest times.

According to local reports, police only uncovered the scam after an informant told them about the sale of Wal-Mart gift cards valued at a quarter of their face value by a person matching Laura Howerton's description. Police say further charges against the four suspects and arrests of other are both likely.

The four arrested people are due to appear in court later today (5 January) facing charges of theft punishable by up 20 years imprisonment. ®

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