How to shut down Walmart with one swipe


This is interesting.  It appears that, at some Walmarts at least, you can forcibly shut down their cash registers simply by using an American Express Prepaid card.

A few weeks ago I received this email from a reader (I’ve abbreviated a few parts and bolded some for emphasis):

Have you heard of any technical problems associated with using the AMEX prepaid credit card at Wal-mart stores? … I’ve had success using it at ATMs and virtually all types of merchants (gas, grocery, retail, etc.) with the exception of Wal-mart.  On two different occasions, when I tried to swipe the card at check-out, it essentially shut down the clerk’s entire computer systemWe moved to a different register thinking the problem was with that specific machine but the same thing happened.  So today, I tested it at another Wal-mart store elsewhere in town… Same story.  I even asked the clerk to manually input the 15-digit code thinking it could be a problem with the physical card; however, same result.  Computer shuts down and we have to move to a different register.

Have any of your other readers mentioned anything remotely similar? I called AMEX customer service but they had no clue.  From the expressions of the Wal-mart clerks, they had never seen anything like this before either. 

When I read the above email, I remember thinking that this was a weird fluke.  I meant to write a post asking if it had happened to anyone else, but I was traveling at the time and I forgot to put it on my to-do list.  Last night, though, I was reminded by a new email from a reader known as Perryplatypus (again, I’ve bolded parts for emphasis):

I recently ran into an interesting issue with the Amex Prepaid at Walmart in two different states Texas and Oklahoma. I tried to make two small purchases like $30 and $20 and the card completely froze up the Walmart register! It actually sent the register into a countdown sequence from 500. It completely locked up the register and both times they had to open new registers to check us out. Then I just paid for my items using my SPG Amex instead. It looks like Walmart has a software issue with this card and I contacted Amex prepaid today to let them know the issues I had. I’m just wondering if you or any of your other readers have had this problem? Also no charges ever appeared for these transactions and the card is still working well with all other merchants.

Reader experiences

Has anyone else tried using the American Express Prepaid cards at Walmart?  What was your experience?


I am in no way suggesting that anyone should use this card as a weapon against Walmart.

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    • Scott: Thanks for that constructive feedback. Despite the title, the point of the post should be obvious: unless Walmart has fixed their systems, you might want to pay with a different card when checking out.

    • dan: Online you can. I don’t know about in-store. I’d say chances are good given the online option.

      DavidAL: Thanks for the info. What city/state did you use it in?

  1. @FrequentMiler – Good work. Full disclosure is the best route here for both cardholders and Walmart/Amex. Navigating the maze of either of those companies will take ages for it to get resolved.

    Ultimately it’s probably going to be a fix made by the POS operator. What were the make/models of the POS terminals in question?

  2. I shut down two registers at the Walmart in Taos, NM two days ago. After two, I used a different card at the third register.

  3. Im in AL. I’ve used both the temp card and the permanent card. I’m usually just buying WM gift cards to use at Sams. I will try in FL this week.

  4. I’ve had the identical experience — and twice. About 10 days ago, my daughter took her card into a north Austin Wal-Mart for a few items. She was mortified when first one, then a second register were shut down (exactly as described) when she attempted to use the Amex prepaid card. I thought her experience was a fluke.

    Then two days ago, I tried to buy $60 worth of groceries at a Wal-Mart in south Austin. As soon as I swiped the card, the register shut down and started rebooting backward from 390. A supervisor was called, and amid laughter, we ran the items through at a second register. Again, instant shutdown, and laughter replaced by puzzled concern. As my daughter did, I ended up paying with a different card.

    I later telephoned American Express….was told there was a ten-minute wait time. I called back later, got a CSR in India, explained the problem and was told, with some confidence: “We see no problem with Wal-Mart on your card history. This is because Wal-Mart is trying to process this as a debit card transaction, and it should be processed as a credit card transaction.”

    I wasn’t going to get into an argument with somebody in India, but it didn’t make sense. The shutdown came immediately with the swipe of the card. There is usually an option after swiping to select debit or credit. In any case, I’ll be interested in how this works out….in the interim, I doubt I’ll be using the card at Wal-Mart.

  5. I had the same experience yesterday in Tampa, FL. I wanted to use my AMEX prepaid in Walmart and when I swiped the card the register was shut down. We tried different register – the same story. Overall, I shut down 4 registers and on the fifth I decided to use different card. You should see the faces of Walmart employees, when I moved from one register to another. Even supervisor couldn’t reboot the register. I was so terrified, I thought my AMEX prepaid card was hacked and my wife gave me dangerous looks about my addiction to miles/points (the main reason I got AMEX prepaid card). In other stores this card works fine. So, should I contact AMEX about it?

  6. I shut down 2 registers at the local Walmart trying to use the Amex prepaid card. Everyone was clueless, finally just paid cash to get out since everything had to be re-rung.

  7. Wow. Am I the only one that hasn’t had a problem? Granted I haven’t used it in Walmart in about 2 weeks, but still. I will go in WM later this week in FL and see if it shuts the puppy down or not.

  8. I tried to purchase one item yesterday and shut down two terminals completely. Neither the cashiers nor the supervisor had ever seen anything like that. Vanilla Visa had problems too.

  9. Maybe you should call Amex/Chase and refer them to this post and your 5% off everything post……..and tell them to fix this issue so u can continue to take advantage of them…….

  10. If this is the same Gregorygrady, he’s come a long way attitudinally in a very short time. Only a few short years ago, he was scratching around on the Southwest Airlines site, looking almost daily to save a couple of bucks on a rental car. Now he is a stuffy, eminence grise of FF boards, a self-appointed arbiter of what is ethical and what’s over the line. I personally preferred the old Gregorygrady.

  11. this is actually helpful because I know to use a different card now at Walmart. saves a few minutes of hassle.

  12. Happened to me too, wanted to buy Walmart giftcards to use at Sams club. I tried at 2 Walmarts (1 Supercenter, 1 neighborhood and on 5 registers). I called Amex, they told me to get cash from ATM. I used the permanent card.

  13. Yep. I had this issue for a month now. Never used my permanent card now at walmart. It is very annoying specially when other people are waiting in line.

    Also called Amex Prepaid they said i did not have any transaction from walmart.

  14. Haven’t tried mine at Walmart and probably won’t now. Reminds me of … in early 2011 I was purchasing groceries and a gift card or two – the $500 variety – at a local supermarket (with which credit card I don’t remember). First the register I was at shut down and within about 10 minutes every register in the store shut down. Just a coincidence I’m sure, hah, but I didn’t have time for them to figure out the problem and reboot everything (they were on the phone with corporate IT and didn’t seem to know what to do), so I left the groceries and gift cards. I almost felt guilty as if I had caused the problem!

  15. I and my wife have both visited Walmart with no problems being experienced. My wife just went there yesterday – 16 June 2012. I hope the problem isnt contagious to my area…this card is my only way of getting a good reward value on our Wal-mart purchases. I am in the DFW area.

  16. I’ve had problems with the Vanilla Visa at various merchants including Fedex Kinkos and a True Value hardware store. Kinkos has had problems with prepaids/giftcards, and True Value said the expiration date was invalid (expires in 2020) because Normal credit cards don’t expire that far ahead. And my prepaid Amex expires in 2021.

  17. My prepaid Amex shutdown 2 registers in 1walmart and 1register in another Walmart. Paid with different card in both cases on different registers while the shutdown registers are rebooting.

  18. Shut down the self check out line in DFW. Four employees came over to look at it and couldn’t figure it out. They had to restart the system and then check me out of another one. I didn’t use the card a second time. I used that pre-paid card earlier that day at Costco, so definitely something wrong with Walmart. I didn’t get a countdown, it just said an error had occurred and it didn’t matter what buttons they used, it would not change the screen. I selected the credit card at checkout.

  19. Shutdown two different registers in Sunrise, FL last week. After the second one it was clear that it was my card, so out came the INK Bold for a 3 dollar purchase.

  20. My husband used his prepaid Amex to pay for an online course on his computer & it said “card invalid”, even tho they accepted Amex as a form of payment. Tried mine too & got the same message. Wierd!

  21. I had a similar issue a couple months back actually. I was using a prepaid Staples Rebate Debit card at a CVS self checkout. The machine froze and became completely unusable. The tech there couldn’t even get it to respond to the restart codes. Never had any other issues after that though.

  22. Just today I overheard 2 Target employees talking about how they had to update thier machines to accept American Express.

    After seeing this post, I beleive they were talking about a fix for this particular issue.

  23. Confirmed for central Illinois as well. I used the “permanent” card yesterday and rebooted a register.

  24. I was at payless shoes yesterday using amex giftcard i bought from ralphs. first swipe crashed the terminal. it was bad cuz it was their only terminal. everyone was waiting in line. 5 minutes later, the machine rebooted. second swipe ran through.

  25. Knocked out 2 registers and 2 different Wal-marts in Fort Lauderdale, and Pompano Beach, FL. Did the 500 countdown, froze up, had to reboot, even when entered manually. I called AmEx, they had no clue, they said they only have issues with the card not working at BP gas stations. Now sometimes when I’m at Wal-mart I just swipe it anyways for fun… LMAO @Stvr “domestic terrorism”

  26. I remembered this post about 30 seconds before swiping my prepaid at a Walmart in Martinsburg, WV. Swiped, and the clerk’s face went white. “It’s black! Everything’s gone!”

    I was going to just use a different card at another register, but a manager came by and asserted that it was a problem they were having throughout the day, not attributed to my card. Swiped, crashed.

    I felt bad and apologized, and the manager said “No, it’s ok, it’s not your fault” …which made me feel worse.

  27. My wife just shut down 3 registers in Southern California at Wal-Mart using a permananet Amex-Prepaid. Seems like the POS company would push out an update already. If a card can lock the system i am sure that it can compromise it as well.

  28. Look, if you want to shut Wal-mart down, just don’t spend any money there. I haven’t shopped at Wal-Mart for over five years. I doubt this card trick is really all that effective, but it does look expensive and childish.

  29. My Am Ex card locked up the wal mart register on two different occasions. Today my Visa did it. I had to leave my items and walk out. The cashiers didn’t know what the hell was up.

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