Fraud comes in many forms and ingenious schemes. Merchants are now becoming victims of “Return Fraud,” where thieves are stealing from them without leaving the store.
With the “Return Fraud” scheme, people will bring back stolen goods, counterfeit receipts, and merchandise that has been used or work and exchange them for cash. Some bold thieves will even pick up the merchandise right off a store’s shelves, take it to the store’s customer service counter, and ask for a refund. A fraud ring in the mid-west fraud ring, knowing how lenient the return policy was for some stores, began returning merchandise to them without receipts and asked to have the merchandise exchanged for gift cards and store credit. They would then turn around and sell the store’s gift cards at discount prices.
Return fraud uses deceptive means to obtain money or property. In the eyes of the law, since it is similar to retail fraud like shoplifting, it is charged as petty theft. Like petty theft, it requires proof that there was intent to steal the merchandise and not an accident.
Most petty theft cases are for shoplifting, and is the most common type of theft prosecutors make charges for. Like petty theft, return fraud can be charged under California Penal Code Section 484(a) and California Penal Code Section 488 PC as long as the theft crime meets the following:
Under California Penal Code section 484, if a person uses deceit or fraud to gain possession of labor, money, or real personal property, they are guilty of “theft by trick.” The definition of “theft by trick” is using fraud or deceit as a means to obtain possession of property belonging to another person.