CNBC recently reported that a couple from Indiana stole $1.2 million in merchandise from Amazon by abusing their “accommodating return policy,” which entails issuing a replacement to the customer before the ‘damaged’ item is sent back.
Erin Finan, 38, and Leah Finan, 37, bought countless high-ticket items such as Xboxes, Samsung smartwatches, and GoPro cameras, using hundreds of false identities. Then, with the help of a third party, Danijel Glumac, sold the marked-up stolen items to the public while the couple stayed under the radar. Glumac was also involved in the laundering of the profits in order to pay the Finans their share — a whole estimated $725,000.
According to the Washington Post, the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Indiana State Police investigated the case together. In the end, the Finans were caught and plead guilty to mail fraud and money laundering in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis.
As outlandish as their scheme may have seemed, with just a quick Google search, you will find it is, unfortunately, an occurrence that is quite too common in our society today. Incidentally, the reason why these schemes are not caught and reported more often is that they are seemingly easy to get away with.
Just take it from author Alex Long from WonderHowTo.com, who explains a flaw in the Wal-Mart returns system that allows major thefts to go unnoticed. Two step-by-step examples are provided that require and don’t require a receipt from the scammer.
In a nutshell, one person can make an in-store purchase, keep the receipt and the original item, return to the store and pick up a duplicate of that item and bring it to the customer service desk to ask for a refund. Supposedly, the receipt is rarely ever checked, even if it is provided, and the employee will refund the cash to the scammer who keeps the stolen item.
In a different scenario, two people can enter the store. One purchases an item, then goes back and switches that item out with a duplicate. They take the duplicate up to the counter and ask for a refund, mentioning that they lost their receipt but noting that they were just in the store. They receive their “refund” for the item and hand off the original receipt to the second person, who comes back a few days later to retrieve the already-bought item (sitting in a hidden location), so that they may also get a “refund” on the item. Both people received cash for something they did not even buy, completely undetected.
BT has stated that “a growing number of people have been exploiting a loophole in eBay’s refunds process to scam people.” This loophole is very similar to Amazon’s return policy. A customer will buy an item from an eBay user, then report that it was never delivered or that it was not as the item was described online.
A few safety measures have been implemented to combat this return fraud. One is requiring a signature for delivery so that the customer cannot refute that it was not delivered. Another is the eBay Money Back Guarantee, which states it will review evidence (like proof of signature) or photos of the item listed. However, one flaw is that if eBay determines the item wasn’t delivered or wasn’t as described, it will reimburse the buyer at the seller’s expense. eBay is known to side more with the customer, along with other retail sites/stores, so the likelihood of this continuing to happen is high.
In fact, the Daily Beast reported that Bob Moraca, the NRF’s vice president of loss prevention, had this to say:
“New numbers out today reveal the extent of the ‘shrinkage.’ According to the National Retail Federation, the tally of red from return fraud this year is a whopping $10.9 billion in the U.S., based on figures from 60 retailers surveyed. Holiday shopping season alone accounts for $3.6 billion. The losses to the industry have moved up $1 billion-plus from a year ago. I am frightened by how much of this is caused by organized retail crime.”
This is by no means the full extent of which return scheming goes, either. There are many other accounts of more intricate scams, online and in-store. Companies are trying to become more aware of these undetected crimes. However, it is difficult for them to truly implement a plan that works when the motto in retail stores across the United States is, “the customer—even the crooked customer—is always right.”
Featured image via Pixabay