Walmart Food Stamp Stampede: Who Should Pay?

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Some Louisiana residents on food stamps went on a shopping spree at Walmart last weekend when a glitch removed the spending limit from their accounts.

What would you do if you knew that, for at least a few hours, a computer glitch would give you access to infinite credit at your grocery store?

For some people, the answer is: Run to the local Walmart and check out with 10 carts full of free food. That’s what happened this weekend in Springhill and Mansfield, La., Reuters says. Some of the shelves were cleaned out.

Here’s what happened: In Louisiana and a number of other states, Xerox processes electronic food stamp benefits, Reuters says. Xerox was testing its backup generators and they malfunctioned, bringing down the processing system. So when people with food stamp cards — which basically work like debit cards — swiped them at checkout, the cashiers saw no spending limits instead of a remaining card balance.

There’s a procedure in place for situations like this, ABC News says. During emergencies, retailers can refuse purchases over $50. But when the stores called corporate headquarters to see what they should do, Walmart said to let the transactions go through. Word got around, and soon people were pushing carts with $700 worth of free groceries out to the parking lot.

Now, Xerox and Walmart are bickering over who has to pay for it all.

Springhill Police Chief Will Lynd said that customers were “not unruly” and no arrests were made, but that it was worse than Black Friday, according to ABC News.

Reuters reported, “The shoppers broke no laws, Lynd said, adding that police intervention was not required to disperse the crowd.” But when Walmart’s loud speaker announced that the system had been fixed, people abandoned their carts and walked out of the store.

This is hardly the first time something like this has happened. This summer, PayPal accidentally credited $92 quadrillion to a Pennsylvania man’s account. (The error was corrected in two minutes. The man said he would have bought the Philadelphia Phillies if he were truly among the mega rich.)

Bankrate has written about bank errors before, and found that basically anything can happen. People have been accidentally given money that wasn’t theirs and received permission to keep it. People have tried to return the extra funds, and when bureaucracy lost track of their investigations, got to keep it. People have gotten in legal trouble for spending bank errors in their favor and were forced to repay it plus a fine.

What do you think should happen to people who suddenly and knowingly come into money by mistake and then spend it? Let us know what you think on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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