Return Fraud—A Serious Crime with Serious Punishments

Since the holiday season is indisputably the busiest time of year for many retailers, it would seem that many store owners should get to sit back and relax now that the season is coming to an end. Unfortunately, that’s not quite the case. While the holiday season may be winding down, many retailers are steeling themselves against the losses that they inevitably suffer over the coming weeks and months.

That’s right – losses.

By the end of this holiday season, retail stores around the country will have been robbed of billions of dollars as a result of return fraud.Click To Tweet “Return fraud” is the name given to a number of schemes that have been getting more and more popular in recent years. Specifically, crimes that qualify as return fraud include: the act of exchanging stolen goods for cash or store credit; the use of counterfeit receipts to receive “money back” that had never actually been spent; and returning items that have already been worn or used.

While the perpetrators of these crimes may see them as harmless, clever swindles, the fact is that return fraud is illegal and comes with serious consequences in Colorado.

Think It’s No Big Deal? Think Again.

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Although it may seem that instances of return fraud are few and far between, recent research suggests differently.  According to USA Today, return fraud costs retailers a combined total of almost $9 billion a year. The article also claims that “45 percent of retailers report being victims of criminals who use counterfeit receipts to make returns.”

Clearly, retail fraud is a very real problem affecting a wide array of retail stores, but certain stores have been more targeted than others. Once a retailer develops a reputation for having a slightly lax or easy-to-manipulate return policy, it becomes a target for retail criminals.

But people who seek out these stores may be shooting themselves in the foot, because the consequences of return fraud are more far-reaching than one may think. Certainly, the retailers and store owners feeling the blow of all that lost revenue, but the effects of these crimes reach even further. Return fraud can cost innocent and hardworking employees their jobs, lead to store closures, and even have negative effects for shoppers if stores have to raise prices to cover their losses or alter their return policies to make them more restrictive. Many places are already following this last policy by requiring people to show picture IDs to return items.

And, of course, those found guilty of return fraud will face serious consequences, including large fees and even serious jail time for their actions. If you are charged with return fraud, it is absolutely a big deal and you need to take it very seriously.

Fight Back Against Return Fraud Charges

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Because retailers are feeling the sting of people trying to engage in return fraud, many stores right now are hyper vigilant. Sometimes, this leads to them making poor judgment calls and going after the wrong people. If you’ve been wrongfully accused of return fraud, there are several things that you can do to get the charges reduced or dropped altogether.

Save receipts. While there are criminals out there who forge receipts to bolster their return claims, having this kind of physical proof with you can go a long way towards helping your case. If you’re the type of person who easily loses receipts, see if the store can send you one via email.

Offer up credit statements. If you buy something with a credit card, there will be a clear record of the purchase. Even better, you don’t need to hang on to the physical statement, because most credit cards have online statements that you can access and print out whenever you want.

Be honest. Sometimes people embellish on the reasons that they are returning an item because they’re afraid that the store won’t take it unless there’s a really good argument for doing so. This kind of thinking, though, can get you into trouble because employees who are looking for fraud may think you’re covering for something more nefarious. Tell the truth – even if it’s just “I didn’t like it.”

Call a lawyer. The worst thing that you can do – even if you’re completely innocent – is to treat return fraud charges like they are a joke. A conviction for this type of crime will stay with you your whole life and can be quite costly – both monetarily and personally. In fact, in some cases these thefts may qualify as white collar or fraud crimes, which means their consequences may be different and perhaps more severe. Make sure your rights are protected and you’re building the best defense possible by getting an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

About the Author:

Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.