Lax return policies and gift receipts make it easy to trade in those awful pink pajamas from grandma. (She meant well.) But stores' willingness ask fewer questions about returns also allows people to exploit the system.
And they do. According to the Guardian, American retailers expect they'll process returns on stolen goods worth around $3.58 billion this holiday season—“items that were either stolen from the store and then returned, or were paid for with fake or stolen credit cards and then returned.”
The dollar figure isn't an exact value but a best estimate. According to NBC, the National Retail Federation estimates that around 5 percent of returns will be fraudulent. But a $3.6 billion dollar take wouldn't stray too far from previous years. In the 2013 holiday season, some $3.39 billion dollars worth of returns were considered to be fraudulent, says the Chronicle Herald.
Retail fraud comes in many flavors, says the Herald. Sometimes it's people returning a toy their kid got bored of or wearing a dress for a party, only to take it back to the store the next day. In other cases, says the Guardian, stores become the target of organized crime rings.
Individual shoppers are usually not the culprit when it comes to such scams. An increasing number of these returns are carried out by organized crime groups, says Bob Moraca, the National Retail Federation vice president of loss prevention.
“Return fraud has become an unfortunate trend in retail thanks to thieves taking advantage of retailers’ return policies to benefit from the cash or store credit they don’t deserve,” Moraca said. “Many of these return fraud instances are a direct result of a larger, more experienced crime rings that continue to pose serious threats to retailers’ operations and their bottom lines.”
Return fraud isn't just a holiday shopping problem, says NBC. Over the course of the year, retailers expect to lose $10.9 billion to fraudulent returns.