Making bogus bar codes: Just how hard is it?

First it was shoplifting, then it was ticket-switching, and now it's bar code fraud. Just how easy is it to make a fraudulent UPC? Easier than you think. But getting away with the crime is a different story.


Several San Francisco Bay Area Target stores were the recent, uhhh, target of not one, but two unrelated barcode scammers who apparently found the manufactuer's suggested price of Lego sets too much to bear.

The two men allegedly replaced the bar codes on Lego boxes with phony bar codes, allowing them to waltz out of the store with hundreds of dollars worth of the building blocks for a fraction of the actual price.

And to add a touch of "you-can't-make-this-up" flair, one of the accused is a VP at software giant SAP . According to authorities, the Silicon Valley exec sold the toys on eBay and over the course of about a year, raked in about $30,000. His profile has since been removed, but I perused a cached version and it seems he was a highly rated seller with no shortage of glowing reviews. Not sure Target would approve of his sales technique, though.

If you're the straight-and-narrow type like me, you might be surprised to learn that it's not hard to create your own bar code labels. Just Google it. I'll wait here while you do. Who knew, right? Well apparently, quite a few people. Including two couples who ran a similar bar code scheme for about a decade and cheated Wal-Mart stores out of about $1.5 million. That foursome was busted in 2005. Not sure whether they also scooped up the Danish building blocks as part of their loot, but take it from someone who always opted for Legos over Barbies as a kid, they're worth paying the full price.

About the author

    Sumi Das has been covering technology since the original dot-com boom. She was hired by cable network TechTV in 1998 to produce and host a half-hour program devoted to new and future technologies. Prior to CNET, Sumi served as a Washington DC-based correspondent, covering breaking news for CNN. She reported live from New Orleans and contributed to CNN's coverage of Hurricane Katrina, which earned the network a Peabody Award. She also files in-depth tech stories for BBC News which are seen by a primarily international audience.


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