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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Earlier this week Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan exposed a gift receipt rip-off that was happening at Wal-Mart stores coast to coast. Customers were being short-changed when making returns, and most would never even know it.

Time and time again, we were told pretty much the same thing by Wal-Mart customer service employees, “If it’s on sale that’s the price that you get.”

With our hidden cameras rolling, 3-On Your Side purchased items at area Wal-Mart stores, then returned them using gift receipts after the items went on sale. (see related story)

When a 3-On Your Side staff member asked a Wal-Mart cashier why we weren’t getting the full amount back for our purchase, she was told, “It doesn’t tell us the price, whatever it scans is what you get.”

Watch the video...

For example we purchased an electric blanket at a cost of $31.03 but when we returned it we only got back $20.33 in the form of a gift card. Wal-Mart pocketed $10.70 of our money. A Wal-Mart employee told us “If you don’t have a receipt with the actual price, I have to give you whatever comes up.”

Shopper David Schmitz says Wal-Mart tried to shortchange him too. After buying a makeup kit as a gift for $15, Wal-Mart wanted to only give him back a reduced sale price of $7.50 when he returned it using his gift receipt. He says, “I knew I spent $15 dollars and I wasn’t going to take less.”

And Wal-Mart says he shouldn’t have been offered less. In a prepared video statement sent to CBS 3 Wal-Mart spokesman Lorenzo Lopez said in part, “We learned that there may be some confusion on how to process gift receipts.”

That confusion apparently involves the failure of cashiers to hit a gift receipt button on the register when processing gift receipt returns. Following our investigation, Wal-Mart issued a memo to its managers nationwide instructing them to remind employees that gift receipts follow the same guidelines as refunds with regular receipts.

In the video statement Lopez said, “We have sent a high priority notification to all store management to help ensure all cashier and service desk associates follow the proper refund process.” That proper refund process includes getting the full purchase price back.

Consumer Advocate Edgar Dworsky says it’s just common sense. “You have the receipt which indicates what was paid, that’s the amount you should get back.”

In fact when 3-On Your Side checked the return policies at some of our region’s biggest retailers they were practically identical. Macy’s, Target, Kohl’s, and J.C. Penney all told us that their customers are entitled to the full purchase price when making a return, regardless of what type of receipt they have.

When David Schmitz argued that there isn’t any difference between a gift receipt and a regular receipt, the Wal-Mart manager refunded the full amount he originally paid. Wal-Mart tells us if you have any problems making a return, you should ask to speak with a store manager too.

Reported by Jim Donovan, CBS 3

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