He operated his scam at Target stores in the Bay Area, where he was eventually caught, and later charged with four felony counts of second degree burglary. Lego is a popular and relatively expensive product, and Target therefore keeps close track of their inventory and investigates losses, such as on April 20th when Langenbach swapped the barcodes on two separate Lego sets – one worth $120 tagged with a $50 barcode and one worth $70 to $25. Investigators spotted him swapping the barcodes through security camera surveillance, and flyers were distributed to various Target stores in the area.He was eventually spotted walking into a Mountain View Target store on May 8th by a loss prevention officer, who alerted security staff to monitor him. Sure enough he was seen to switch another barcode and purchase a set of Legos at a discounted price. Security staff detained him and police later made the arrest. At the time ABC News reported that prosecutors found 32 fake barcodes in his car and many more in his house.
However Thomas Langenbach is by far not the first person to try this scheme. An Australian man, Edward Podolak, (featured in the photo on the left) from Victoria, was successful in swapping barcodes on various pieces of equipment from TV’s to fishing gear and portable hot water systems. He was eventually caught whilst attempting to buy a $700 coffee machine for only $30. In his case however the money was apparently sorely needed. A Serbian immigrant living in Indiana also created fake barcode labels for cheaper items and managed to steal $70 000 from a Lowe’s shop. His method was either to return the item for the full price refund, or to sell them on eBay. Astonishingly he managed to keep this scam up for almost 10 years in around 1000 different shops across various States. However, once he was caught he was faced with possible deportation, and fifteen months in jail – for an average of only $7 000 a year.
Bizarrely, 38 year old Ashok Patel used fake barcodes to save the massive total of $20 on four bottles of mouthwash – for which he faced 20 weeks in prison – although he did have previous convictions including fraud and forgery, and had only recently come out of jail for a previous offense.
On a much larger scale were a ring of conspirators who operated in the Illinois, Texas, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania areas. Led by Tommy Joe Tidwell of Dayton, Ohio, this ring managed to rake in more than $1 million using a UPC barcode scam in only one year. Tidwell produced the fake barcodes on his PC at home and also sold the items on eBay – his account there had glowing reviews and only 4 negative comments out of a total of 522. Local law enforcement and the FBI eventually managed to arrest him. He was sentenced to seven years behind bars.
In July of 2012 a mother from the UK was arrested for the same scheme – also targeting expensive toy products such as the Star Wars Lego sets. Barbara Aqueweque managed to pull the con off at three or four shops a day, spending around $80 dollars per day – but making around $1000 dollars a day selling them on eBay. She was found out via surveillance camera footage in April.