How to stop restaurant tip fraud

If you pay your restaurant bills with with a credit card, there's a small chance a crooked waiter will jack up the tip by scribbling the amount you added. If you don't go over your receipts and compare them to your credit card statement each month, you'll never know if you've been a victim of this form of fraud.

I know for a fact this has happened to me at least once. I had a meal at Mexicali Concina Cantina in Studio City, CA. I paid with a credit card and left a cash tip. When I got my credit card statement, I happened to have the receipt handy, and I discovered that I had been overcharged by exactly ten dollars. I called my credit card company, and they reversed the charge.

Punny Money has a way to help you catch tip fraud without having to compare your receipts to your statements (you do need to save your receipts, though). You use a checksum method. Adjust the pennies in your tip so the last digit to the right of the decimal point equals the sum of the digits to the left of the decimal point of the total bill.

When you get your statement, the fraudulent tips are easy to spot:
Link (Via Crypto-Gram)


  1. On those occasions when I tip in cash, but pay with credit, I typically write “cash” in the tip line of the bill, and re-enter the total on the total line. I guess this wouldn’t prevent someone from entering a different amount over the Zon machine, but it does discourage “scribbling” of the sort described.

  2. It use to freak me out when I got home and looked up my bank account because a few restaurants I got to will add 30% to your meal as a precharge, and then later it gets corrected to the appropriate amount a few days later.

    If this is at the end of the month, the statement will reflect the old amount as opposed to the corrected one…and maybe the next month you see a few $$$s added to the balance.

    But again, with the instant access to the charges, it is a little freaky…and yeah, I have had a few dollars slipped in once or twice where I thought the waiter was lousy (and in one instance kinda hateful) and just didn’t tip at all or not much. I actually called the restaurant the one time I found this and notified them that I left nothing at all because the guy was horrible…they went in, found it was scribbled in over NO TIP FOR YOU and comped the meal in its entirety letting me know it was coming out of the waiter’s account for my trouble.


  3. This happened to me once before, I left a $5.00 cash tip, but when my credit statement came the charge was $5.00 more then it should be. It could’ve been a quick mistake by the waiter and not completely evil, but I got the $5 credited back by my credit card company. This is why I track my every credit card purchase with MS Money as if they were deductions from a checking account, and keep all my receipts until the statement balances.

    @UMBRIEL: Writing “CASH” in the tip line is a good idea, I typically just put a line through the field, I’ll have to start doing that.

  4. Congrats to the restaurant for comping the meal.

    It’s nice to see management stepping up and doing the right thing.

    Hope you were able to go back and support them some other time.


  5. I had a waitstaff friend once tell me that writing “cash” on the tip line was not good from their perspective. When you tip in cash, it might or might not actually get declared on taxes. If you write “cash” then they have to declare something. If I tip cash, I write “zero” or “0” on the tip line and then put the total in. Looks for the paper train like you are a cheapskate, but let’s the waitstaff determine their own level of honesty to the government.

  6. Wow, I had never thought much about this type of credit card fraud… thanks for bringing it to our attention. The only type of restaurant/credit fraud I have encountered up to this point is once, when we moved to a different state, we had a restaurant in our former state make a charge to our credit card, months after we moved. However, I contacted the credit card company, and they did remove the charge. And we promptly received new cards/card numbers….

  7. It’s kind of amazing to hear all these stories.

    I had a really shitty waiter at an Applebees in Arizona once. So, naturally, I left him a .37 tip. (Yes, I realize this is extremely rude, but this guy deserved it.)

    When I got home, I discovered that he had written in an extra 10$ for his troubles.

    I notified the Applebees with no good response- only an offer to refund the 10$ sans apology. So, I followed my way up the corporate chain and ended up with a fairly decent gift card for my troubles.

    They never let the guy go. It seems stealing from customer’s is appropriate behavior.

  8. a few pointers from a cook/server/manager for many years.

    -if you use a debit card at a restaurant: if you are one of THOSE people who run home and login to see how much money you’ve spent while out shopping/eating out, the charge that will appear (for at least a few hours, if not 24 hours) will be your total bill plus a 20% tip. this is visa’s way of making sure you have enough in your bank account to cover a 20% tip. when the restaurant runs its batch at the end of the night, the ACTUAL tip (i’m relying on server honesty here) will then be posted to your account.

    for example: your meal cost $78.16 and you left a $12 tip using your debit card (you cheap bastard!). if you run right home like a chicken with its head cut off and check your online statement, it will show as a $93.79 charge from that restaurant ($78.16 + 20% tip). this is usually NOT listed under POSTED BALANCE, as it is a pending charge. usually, by the morning, the bank statement will reflect your true charge.

    -as far as furiously scribbling “NO TIP FOR YOU!!” on a charge slip, i’d think twice before doing something like that. you may have received poor service, but passive-aggressive BS like that only makes you more of a mark the next time you come in. if you have a problem with poor service, go to the manager right then and there.

  9. Ironically, this method would not have detected the extra $10 charge on your account, because the one’s column and cent amounts were unchanged!

  10. I work as a pizza delivery driver, and we take credit card orders over the phone, then take the usual slip to the customer to sign along with their pie. We had to fire someone for cheating on their tips just like this.

    However, the few times I’ve been tipped in some really odd change on a credit order, say $3.34 on a $15 order, when I enter my tip into the VISA machine I would just drop the weird change and change the tip to $3.00, for a total of $18. I don’t want your silly change, but I don’t think you can get made if I charge you less than you wrote down, right?

  11. Uh, I think you’ll mostly just catch busy servers rounding off your tip so it’s easier to type in the machine.

    If you’re really worried, save your receipts.

  12. I was charged the full price of a meal instead of just half, as my friend paid for the other half on debit, and my credit card company wouldn’t reverse it. I don’t know if the waiter was trying to up her tip or what (we didn’t leave one because the service was terrible).

  13. We don’t tend to tip in New Zealand. People think we’re rude but we pay our waiting staff properly and, believe me, it’s a lot less hassle and you end up getting better service.

    Tips schmips I say. Down with guilt money.

  14. If I’m paying w/ credit I always tip on credit as well.

    I simply round up any tip to the next dollar. A more primitive check sum, I guess.

    So, meal is 16.48 and the service was good, so, I’ll tip them 3.52, bringing the bill to a nice, tidy 20.00.

  15. Unless my tab is super expensive, I use cash to pay the whole bill. I have worked in the industry and feel that is your most logical option. Can anyone tell me how to get to the forementioned “Nick’s Yummy Restauraunt!”

  16. A couple things here –

    Yes, there are some less than honest people in the serving business. As a server, i’ve seen them, i’ve worked with them, and i know some of their tricks. So from my POV, here are some suggestions to avoid getting scammed –

    First, make sure you actually pay attention to writing out the tip sheet. Put how much you want for the tip on the “tip” line, and if you have to, USE A CALCULATOR to add the Tip and the Check Total together to get the Final Total. You’d be surprised how many people don’t pay attention to what they wrote and what they added. This make for a tricky situation for us servers, we want to take the biggest amount for ourselves (duh. that’s human nature.) but we also don’t want to lose the entire tip (and maybe our jobs) if someone calls and says “i didn’t leave that” when indeed they did. So please, make sure your math is right.

    Second, LEAVE THE TIP SHEET. You would be amazed how many people put all the pieces of paper in their pocket and walk out. That screws us over pretty bad, and i know some people have taken their own liberty to “guess” what they would have left. Do us all a favor and leave the tip sheet (signed, correctly added) and then there isn’t any room for guessing.

    Third, if you are leaving cash, write “Cash” and draw a line through the tip, and write the total amount on the sheet. There’s no way to forge different numbers on it, first of all, and it tells us that you did indeed leave a tip, it might just be under the ketchup or something.

    And last but not least, make sure you take the right copy! Some restaurants have a “merchant” or “store” copy and then a “customer” copy. Depending on the store, if you take the store copy, then the server can’t get the tip. This is when bad servers take liberties with guessing the tip again.

    So what happens if you do check your account and find something isn’t quite right? First, CALL THE STORE. The article says to call your credit card company, and then the cops (for pete’s sake) but as long as the restaurant isn’t the biggest piece of shite they will investigate things and take care of it on their side. Sometimes honest mistakes happen. We’re not paying attention and maybe one tip sheet we’re entering in to the system says $5 and the other says $7. We put the amounts on the wrong checks because we’re in a hurry, and don’t catch it. Mistakes happen. Calling the store will get things fixed. And trust me, if the server who made the “mistake” has a habit of making these mistakes, then making the manager aware of the situation helps them build a case against the server. The store i work in (a chain italian place…) has pretty strict rules regarding dismissing an employee, and they have to see a pattern of repeat infractions, they can’t just fire a guy cuz of one event. So calling them and letting them know will both a:) get the situation fixed for you and b.) further a rap sheet if the sever is trying to screw you.

    Unless, of course, the managers/owners are as shady as the servers. There are places out there that the managers take their servers’ tips (all or part of them) and do all sorts of shady stuff. Then, definitely call your card company, and if you think there is some serious crap going on, call the cops on the entire store, not just one poor server who may or may not have confused the check for Table 10 with his Table 12.

    Otherwise, this checksum idea is a pretty good idea, and i think i will myself put it in to policy.

    (if you guys are interested in a better view from a server’s perspective, check out Great website, you’ll learn many things.)

  17. btw, to the guy who rounds his tips down, dude, you’re cheating yourself out of a ton of money! If you round down even just $2 a shift, that’s almost $480 a year! I don’t know about you but i’ll take an extra $480 if i can get it.

  18. This happened to me at a Mexican restaurant in Ontario. (The LA suburb, not the city in Canada.)

    They only added a couple of dollars, and it was a business lunch I turned into accounting, but it was sure an eye-opener.

  19. I drive my wife crazy, but I always leave a tip such that the amount, plus the check ends in .00 or .25. That way I can easily see of someone changes the tip amount. Making it an odd number would be even less obvious. And I try to leave a cash tip, and usually mark the Tip section on the bill so that nobody is tempted to add something.

    Unfortunately, there are always people who are going to be tempted to take advantage of the system.

  20. Methods relying on always having the last two digits land on a certain number only protect you from fraud not attempted in whole dollar amounts.

  21. Not that this excuses the practice, but I wonder how often those who fall victim to this sort of thing more or less have it coming. Even a-hole servers, one would think, would hesitate to screw over the nicer patrons. Or the good tippers. Maybe Mr. Victim routinely comes in, behaves like a total jerk, and then leaves 5% — finally moving Mr. Waiter to consider exacting a little revenge. Again, not that this makes Mr. Waiter any better of a human being.

    But, I’ve been a waiter and, hey, some people just have what’s coming to them.

    Along those lines, though, I should add that credit card fraud is the mark of an inexperienced, desperate waiter. There are numerous other ways to increase one’s earnings via shady dealings. For example, skimming from the till is a time-honored classic. Or, perhaps less risky, “forgetting” to ring up food and drinks usually brings in larger tips. (People figure they’ll tip you generously since you didn’t charge them for things.)

  22. As a bar manager, here’s my two cents. The checksum method suggested is quite a good idea. The easiest way to discourage someone writing in a different amount is to be sure to put a dollar sign directly in front of both the tip and the total with no space between it and the first number. You’d be surprised how often that will actually stop this from happening.

    And, know that this doesn’t happen THAT often. I have worked in many places, and I know of it happening a few times from one person, and that person went to jail. It is a federal offense to do anything fraudulent with a credit card/debit card.

    Mistakes do happen, so do call the restaurant AND your credit card company/bank. The only way the managers will know if someone has a pattern of this is if people let them know. Then something can be done. But if it was an honest mistake (I’ve done it) it can be easily fixed.

  23. As we know, every good idea already has occurred to an Apple user, and this is no different.

    The iPhone has an app called “tipr” that takes your intended tipping percentage (20 percent, you cheapskates) and adds APPROXIMATELY that amount to the price of the meal, so that the total is a palindome.

    So… a $59.76 meal plus 20 percent-ish tip equals $72.27. Easy to check.

    Of course, after you buy the iPhone, you can’t afford the meal.

  24. Here’s a radical idea:

    Have restaurant owners actually pay their staff the decent salary they deserve. Get rid of tipping entirely or reserve it for a modest bonus intended as a “thanks” to the wait-staff, not a mandatory supplementation of their income.

    Sorry, I’m a disgruntled foreigner living in the US, but this is something that works all around the world and leads to a far more pleasant dining experience. The wait-staff are happier, and so are the customers. It’s far nicer to be served by someone who’s courteous because it makes both them and you happier, rather than because they want to get money out of you.

  25. Ian Hickson came up with Hixie’s Natural Log in September to use the checksum idea to use the last two digits for a review of the restaurant, the quality of the drinks, was a vegetarian selection available, was wifi available, and how many guests ate at the meal.

    We can set any number from 0 to 99. In binary, that’s 0b0000000 to 0b1100011. In other words, we have seven bits to play with, except that if both of the high bits are set, then we lose bits 3, 4, and 5. [Source]

    Of course, it failed because of the inconsistency of the waiters and restaurants to bill what he wrote down. See the Hixie’s Natural Log explained.

  26. Bonus hint for dishonest waitstaff: if there are BoingBoing readers among your clientele, always overcharge by a multiple of $9.


  27. Tipping in restaurants is a bizarre holdover. (“Mwwhaha! I am the rich patron and you are the underclass! Dance for my money! Dance!”) Why can’t we just have the waitstaff paid a decent amount to start, with good service as a basic expectation instead of something to bribe for?

  28. How many of you have worked in restaurants? Perhaps you have, but I find it the worst job I’ve ever had. The main problem was dealing with people. Some would just run waiters around for fun.

    I’m just saying that it’s a very difficult position. My Father happens to treat wait staff terribly at restaurants, though I think he doesn’t mean it. He seems to think that they owe him something. I look around when I go out with him to see how fast the kitchen staff is running around, trying to please everyone, and here’s my Dad, seeing none of that, and generally expecting more than average from the staff. Of course, he tips average.

    I tip a lot out of thanks for the hard work that wait staff do. I’m not saying there’s no bad restaurant workers out there, but we’re talking about a few dollars here.


  29. I agree with Matthew Miller.

    Of course…I go to a lot of the same restaurants here in Portland…everyone knows me here on a first name basis, so I never get scammed and always leave nice, fat 20-25% tips.

  30. @kuanes

    “-as far as furiously scribbling “NO TIP FOR YOU!!” on a charge slip, i’d think twice before doing something like that. you may have received poor service, but passive-aggressive BS like that only makes you more of a mark the next time you come in. if you have a problem with poor service, go to the manager right then and there.”

    Hmmm…I’m passive aggressive because I specifically state that the service was bad? No, passive aggressive would be to leave a dollar in pennies, or to spill a glass of water across the table (screwing with the busboys not the waiter), or taking a crap in the fake ficus plant and hoping it takes a couple of days before someone discovers the source of the stench.

    Of course, if I wanted to get the person fired or reprimanded, I’d go to the manager. I didn’t. I don’t know if the waiter had a general bad disposition or if it was just a single day. My gawd, I wouldn’t want to be judged by a single day of my life…at the same time, I work with students, I have the occasional bad day, and I can’t allow myself to let my personal emotions get in the way. As such, I don’t feel bad when someone doesn’t perform, therefore I don’t feel the need to pay.

    Again, not passive aggressive. I wish people who used this term actually knew what it meant.

  31. @23: I agree that a living wage that isn’t based on tips could make a huge difference.

    I’ve had small jobs here and there serving people and in my experience many people treat servers like they are no better than a piece of crap. I think there is this strange belief that if you are serving food, you must be too stupid to get a “real” job somewhere else. And, as everyone knows, if your server is too stupid to know any better, its ok to order them around like a monkey and then give them a 5% tip.
    I don’t think bad tips excuse fraudulent behavior, but I definitely think it encourages disgruntled and underpaid workers to move in that direction.

  32. The precharge thing always gets me on the pending charges, then by the time the thing clears I forget to go back and check. I should just pay cash period.


  33. @Clif Marsiglio

    your passive-aggressiveness manifests itself by you leaving a “note” in place of a tip on the charge slip, and then you exiting the restaurant without having to confront either the server or a manager.

    from Wikipedia (the fount of all info, right?):
    Passive-aggressive behavior refers to passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to following authoritative instructions in interpersonal or occupational situations. It can manifest itself as resentment, stubbornness, procrastination, sullenness, or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is assumed, often explicitly, to be responsible. It is a defense mechanism and, more often than not, only partly conscious. For example, people who are passive-aggressive might take so long to get ready for a party they do not wish to attend, that the party is nearly over by the time they arrive. Alternatively, leaving notes to avoid face-to-face discussion/confrontation, is another form of passive-aggressive behavior.

    note that last sentence. it’s exactly what you did. you ran from a confrontation that, in the end, would probably have been of benefit to you.

  34. Of course you’ll have to come up with your own checksum method, because now all the bb-reading waiters know about this.

    (I’m kidding, of course only the good, honest waiters read bb.)

  35. It’s nice to live in a country where service staff are paid adequately for the job they do.

    No 20% pending charge, no check-sum totals, no fraudulent wait-staff, no ass-hats playing on the expectation of a larger tip, and you can still tip if you want to. And if, because nobody does, the cost of the tip is just subsumed into the price of the food, well, I can live with that to get these advantages.

  36. Always tip cash and write CASH across the space. If you tip on the card, waiters have to report that as income.

  37. I was told (by my cousin, who was a waitress at the time) that it was rude to leave awkward amounts of change as a tip. Tipping $2.83 to round your bill up to $10.00 is convenient for the cutomer, but do waitrons want to count out pennies and nickels at the end of the night? Or is this something I’ve been worrying needlessly about for the last fifteen years?

  38. Here in New Zealand we’ve come up with a novel way around this. Restaurants charge what they need to in order to be able to pay their waiting staff who know they’re not going to get a tip. Diners end the evening with full bellies and no need to worry about paying guilt-tax. If they don’t like the experience they can complain and/or never go back.

    Tipping is an artificial economy that keeps waiting staff on low wages.

  39. As a sometimes-waitress, I’m amazed how many people don’t even write anything on the tip line on the credit card slip. It would be so easy to change a digit and write in a tip.

    I’ve never done it (I’m currently going to school for a career when I’ll get regular criminal record checks, and it’s not worth throwing my career away for a few extra bucks. Plus, I’d feel guilty about it forever), but if you’re going to not leave a tip on a bill that’s over $200 and you were very demanding, write a big ‘ole zero down in the tip line. Not every server is going to be as honest as I am.

  40. So, when figuring out how much to tip, I need to add a whole-dollar amount (what otherwise would be the tip), and then add the first two digits to find out what the last digit should be, and then I add the difference to the subtotal. Or I just save my receipt until it shows on the banking statement that I’d have to check anyway. Or I just pay cash. Hmm.

  41. Here’s another tip trick to make sure what you left matches what’s on your credit card bill:

    Tip the amount you’re going to tip, then round the cents up to that date in the month. Ie, instead of leaving $40 on the 15th, leave $40.15

    ….or, as others have mentioned, just save your receipts!

  42. That is one of the things I love about living in Japan–the price on the menu is the price you pay. Tax is even included.

    Service quality is about the same as the US.

    Price is about the same (i.e. you’re paying the tip in the entree price).

    I don’t have to deal with this crap.

    Here’s the biggest problem with tipping:

    Say you have a restaurant you like.

    You go one night and the service sucks.

    What do you do? Do you leave a small tip? No tip? That will express your displeasure.

    But you want to go back. If you don’t tip the full amount, you will be, as the restaurant person said above, a “mark.” I presume that means he’ll spit in my food or something, which, honestly, ought to be a capital offense and I’m not kidding.

    So you’re in trouble here. The service wasn’t so bad as to require a chat with a manager, and anything you do will probably just result in you getting spit or worse next time.

    So you tip your 20 fucking percent and smile when you leave, because if you ever want to go there again, you better make nice with these idiots.

    I,too, have waited tables. If I got a low tip, I usually knew why and felt bad about it. But I am not so generous about the good will or intelligence of most of the people working in the restaurant industry. They are, for the most part, horrible people, with a few normal people just paying the bills to get through college thrown in.

    Let’s just get rid of the whole ridiculous system. You have bad service one time in a country where they don’t tip, and you can just walk out after paying and the problem is gone. A tip follows you.

  43. @#40 Bruce Arthurs

    Not sure exactly when this happened, but it DID happen. Everyone should tip 20%. Blame Bush if you want – he probably deserves it. Although at this point, his crimes are so numerous that crippling the (American) working class poor economically just fades away into the haze.

  44. #46 (Kyle): I followed your reasoning up to the point where you say that you “just walk out after paying” after bad service in a non-tip society and the problem is gone. I’m not sure what you mean. Do you mean that you just don’t go back to that restaurant again? That doesn’t seem to solve the situation where the food is good and you want to go back but one time the service was bad. Or, if you go back anyway, isn’t that just like tipping 20% regardless of the quality of service?

    I’m asking this question honestly, because I think you have an answer that I just haven’t understood clearly: in a non-tip system, how do I the consumer create an incentive for better service or penalize poor service without making it unsafe for me to eat there again (as it would be if I complained to management)?

  45. Obviously, checking your credit card receipts against the charged amount is the most important thing. But if you’re using this or any other method to do a quick scan of your charges to see if there’s any meddling, you should make sure the method you’re using 1) allows you to make a quick scan and 2) allows you to verify that there’s no meddling that occurred.

    1) If you’re having to add up the dollar digits and then compare to the cents digit, how quickly does this actually work for you as a scanning mechanism? Also, what if you have a meal that ends up being $48 after tip? Do you make the last cents digit a 2 (ignoring the fact that the sum is actually 12), make the last digit of the cents a 3 (summing the numbers again until you get a single digit number), or other?

    2) If you’re rounding to a dollar figure so you can see if someone meddled with your account because it doesn’t end in .00 or .25, are you also aware of what your dollar amount was? Can you be sure in a quick scan that $60.00 is not correct and it was actually $50.00?

    I think the palindrome solution is cool, as long as you have an easy means of figuring it out, and aren’t worried about the waitstaff creating a higher-value palindrome. Combining this with a hard-to-modify number printing scheme seems like the best bet for a quick-scan tool and one that won’t be messed with after you sign the check.

  46. When I worked the counter at Papa John’s, I’d always ask the customers to fill in the tips line and the total, for their protection. I didn’t have any reason to believe that fraud would occur, but I figured it was good customer service to make sure they were as safe as I could make them.

  47. Obviously the correct course of action here is to create a cryptographic hashing algorithm that yields a 6.643856…-bit number.

  48. I wish this whole system were revised. Instead of the cashier typing the tip amount that you write in why not instead allow the customer to enter it directly into the computer? I’ve been scammed so many damn times from the stupid tip receipts it’s ridiculous, unnecessarily easy, and a hassle to correct.


  49. I am a server and was one since the age of 16. I would NEVER do such a thing but I do know someone who did get fired. I report any activity with credit card fraud. people should be fired for these activities and be held accountable with the law.

  50. Give feedback to management or the directly to the waiter instead of, or in addition to, leaving a low tip. Many customers leave poor tips regardless of service, so simply doing so may not convey the message intended. A low tip is no guarantee that service will improve in the future because staff may not know what made you unhappy or who was responsible. Not only will the manager be able to correct the situation, but you might also get a gift certificate out of it.

    That’s from “wikiHow”.

    I’m a college student and have served at a couple of restaurants. I can tell you that many people leave 1% or 0% tips and if you ask them if everything was alright they smile honestly and say “oh yes!”. As a server where I live I make $3.50 an hour plus tips. It can be exhausting between the persona you have and the multitasking, it’s a job where you never stop running around, for eight hours on end sometimes.

    And to the person who wrote “no tip for you”, that is a needless slap in the face for some one. Maybe they were awful but I can say that as a server it is such a passive-aggressive little mini-vendetta that only stresses out a person who is thanklessly working despite an understaffed kitchen, a sloppy manager and disgruntled coworkers, often enough. A small anecdote:

    I worked at a family friendly business lunch sports bar. A man would often come in and order a virgin mojito. It is a real pain to muttle the mint and sugar for a drink that costs $2, while you have real things to attend to, and get a 50 cent tip, when a mojito costs $8. But I would always bother to do this for him, he was a regular. And so, as was obvious, we had no bartender until 5 o’clock. After that the bartender would take care of those at the bar and not at tables. My seven hour shift was ending at % o’clock and the virgin mojito man was sitting at the bar. I had served him already and now the bartender was there. Instead of asking the bartender for a drink he closed out his tap and on the credit card slip wrote “???? where is the bartender” in place of the tip. There is always to be an element of grace when dealing with other people. This guy was a real asshole and rode away on his Segway.

    Please don’t be Segway guy. Don’t tip poorly and don’t yell at telemarketers and don’t get pissy at bus drivers. Just be straight forward, everyone works.

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