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Shopping Abuse and Fraud: Can You Be Arrested for Returning Worn Items?

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

Even though the customer will always be right, shoplifters, fraudsters and other retail criminals will usually be prosecuted, if caught. Shoppers have been trying to game the system ever since there was a system to game. However, many of these shoppers may be committing retail fraud without realizing that they are committing the serious criminal offense of fraud, which carries serious penalties.

One of the most common shopping frauds occurs when a person wears an item of clothing, then returns it. This practice, called 'wardrobing,' can be fraudulent depending on a store's policies. In extreme cases, individuals will re-buy an item they have worn in order to return the worn item with the new receipt. While stores struggle to detect these fraudsters, a former Mrs. America was arrested for doing that to Macy's last year.

Lying to Gain Financial Advantage Is Fraud

Every year, retailers lose billions of dollars due to consumer theft and fraud. The sheer volume of consumer crime businesses face requires them to implement policies that are designed to prevent losses due to theft and fraud. Retail return fraud comes in many different forms, and consumers that engage in any of those forms can be arrested and charged.

Though fraud may sound harsh, most retail return fraud fits the general elements:

  1. A misrepresentation of a material fact
  2. By a person or entity who knows or believes it to be false
  3. To a person or entity who justifiably relies on the misrepresentation, and
  4. Actual injury or loss resulting from his or her reliance.

Returning Worn Items

Generally, a consumer is safe from being arrested if they are honest with a store about the item they are returning. So if you are asked about whether an item was worn, and say yes, and the return is still accepted, you generally do not have to worry about arrest (frequently, stores will make exceptions if a consumer is honest and the goods still look new).

However, if a consumer lies about an item being worn, and the store can prove that the person is lying, then that could spell real trouble, and criminal charges, for the lying consumer. As one might suspect, it is very difficult for a store to prove a consumer is lying, unless they have surveillance footage, a transaction history on the consumer, or other evidence.

While customers may think that big retailers will not notice them, or not prosecute them over a small amount of money, the volume of retail crime they face means retailers frequently enforce their rules strictly against anyone and everyone caught trying to cheat them in order to set an example.

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