Bosses at Asda fear the actual amount Susan Barker got away with could have been anything up to £500,000 because she admitted the scam went on for many years, Wolverhampton Crown Court heard.
The 64-year-old, who had worked for the company for over 30 years, confessed to stealing up to £100-a-shift during her part-time 25-hour working week at the Brierley Hill branch, revealed Miss Amrisha Parathalingham.
Barker, who was of previous good character, turned to crime in a bid to balance the books after her marriage ended in 1995, the court was told.
She had no idea how to handle the family’s finances because her husband had paid the bills and she was too proud to seek advice, it was said.
The defendant lost more money when she was duped by a trickster, it was claimed, and she tried to get out of debt by fiddling Asda’s refund system, continued Miss Parathalingham.
Barker scanned items that were for sale but had not been sold to create bogus transactions that could be loaded onto one of her gift cards as refunds, explained the prosecutor.
She would also scan legitimate customer receipts of those returning an item which had been bought at the same time as other goods, allowing her to add some of those kept by the customer as further returns so she could keep the cash difference.
The scam was finally uncovered during a review of the company’s refund system in February 2016 which exposed huge differences between the amount of money being refunded on her till as compared to those operated by colleagues.
Managers used the branch CCTV to keep watch on her and saw the way she kept goods out of sight while secretly scanning them and made entries into a notebook.
Checks revealed differences of tens of thousands of pounds which allowed them to estimate that they had lost £72,200 through the fraud between January 2014 and February 2016.
Bosses disclosed the losses had cost 300 of Barker’s colleagues their bonus because of the damage done to sales figures.
Recorder Abigail Nixon said a report from Asda suggested the total amount could have been as high as £500,000 since the defendant had said she had run the racket since 2007.
Barker, of Hern Road, Brierley Hill, was spared jail and was instead sentenced to two years suspended for 12 months with 200 hours unpaid work.
The judge was given a sheaf of testimonials from people including the defendant’s former husband, her son and daughter and other friends and relatives.
They were not read out in court but Miss Nixon said: "They tell of a law abiding, honest woman getting herself in trouble because she wanted her children to have the same quality of life they had before the divorce and how she also fell victim to a conman.
"She got herself into a situation where there seemed no way out.
"She buried her head in the sand while pretending everything was OK because of her pride and shame.
"Without those testimonials you would be going straight to prison but your remorse is immense and genuine and I am quite sure you will not appear in court again."