Common Types of Return Fraud
and How to Prevent Them

Retailers face a considerable obstacle in the form of return fraud, which has a notable impact on their profitability and day-to-day operations. Dishonest individuals exploit lenient return policies, engaging in a variety of fraudulent activities. To protect their business interests, it is imperative for retailers to comprehend the distinct types of return fraud and employ effective prevention strategies. By doing so, they can fortify their operations and preserve their financial well-being.

What is return fraud?

Return fraud encompasses the intentional deception of retailers with the aim of acquiring refunds or undeserved benefits during the return process. This deceptive practice encompasses a range of actions, including returning stolen goods, utilising counterfeit receipts, manipulating or swapping price tags, falsely claiming non-receipt of items, and taking advantage of lenient return policies.

For retailers, return fraud poses a substantial challenge and represents a significant issue that needs to be addressed.

There is a startling fact to consider: 10.14% of consumer returns are considered fraudulent.

The types of return fraud you should monitor

  • Wardrobing: Customers purchase items with the intention of using them and then returning them for a full refund, commonly observed in industries like clothing and electronics.
  • Price switching: Fraudsters swap labels or packaging of lower-priced items with higher-priced ones before returning them, enabling them to pay less initially and obtain a refund based on the higher-priced item.
  • Return of stolen merchandise: Thieves steal items from stores and attempt to return them for cash or store credit, often resorting to forging receipts or providing false identification.
  • Counterfeit returns: Fraudsters return counterfeit or fake items, falsely claiming they are genuine products, which can lead to financial losses for retailers who unknowingly refund the value of counterfeit goods.
  • Return of used or damaged goods: Dishonest individuals return used or damaged items while falsely claiming they received them in that condition, seeking refunds or replacements for items they themselves damaged.
  • Gift card fraud: Fraudsters exploit return policies for gift cards, purchasing them, using the balance, and then returning the card as unused, enabling them to obtain the full value without payment.
  • Return abuse: Some individuals abuse return policies by excessively returning items or returning items without a valid reason, treating retailers as temporary rental services and causing financial strain and operational disruptions.
  • Claims fraud: Intentionally false claims, such as Did Not Arrive (DNA) or Item not Received (INR), occur when someone declares that a purchased item never arrived, resulting in significant financial losses for retailers similar to chargebacks.

Is return fraud illegal?

Return fraud is a criminal activity as it involves deceit and dishonesty, causing financial losses for retailers. It is considered illegal and can be prosecuted as theft, fraud, or larceny, depending on the jurisdiction and specific circumstances.

Retailers frequently adopt various measures to identify and prevent return fraud. These measures include utilizing AI to monitor return patterns, implementing identification requirements for returns, and employing dynamic return policies.

How to prevent return fraud

  • Implement dynamic return policies: Leave behind the days of one-size-fits-all return policies. By understanding each customer’s unique needs at the point of return and providing targeted incentives tailored to their situation, retailers can effectively combat return fraud. This approach not only saves costs but also fosters a positive shopping experience that cultivates long-term customer loyalty.

  • Require identification for returns: Requiring identification during the return process enables retailers to track transaction history, identify patterns of abuse, and deter repeat offenders.

  • Utilise technology and data analytics: Leverage advanced technologies and data analytics to identify suspicious return patterns, track serial returners, and detect anomalies that may indicate fraudulent activities. Solutions like New World Norm data science and AI to protect profits both online and in-store, while simultaneously reducing friction and enhancing the customer experience.

  • Train staff on fraud detection: Educate employees about the various types of return fraud and equip them with tools and techniques to identify suspicious transactions. New World Norm module identifies associates in need of supportive training, providing store or call centre managers with metrics and tools to track training sessions and results. This comprehensive solution reduces losses related to theft, fraud, and associate errors.

  • Monitor high-risk items and customers: Identify high-risk products and transactions that may indicate return fraud. Implement additional security measures, such as extra verification steps or limited return options, to mitigate risks associated with these transactions.

  • Employ external resources: Collaborate with third-party organisations specializing in return fraud prevention, like New World Norm, to access advanced technologies, industry expertise, and data intelligence that enhance fraud detection and prevention efforts

Retail return fraud remains a significant challenge, impacting profitability and overall operations for retailers.

Understand the different types of return fraud: Gain insight into the various forms of return fraud to better address and prevent them. By recognising the specific tactics employed by fraudsters, retailers can develop targeted strategies to mitigate risks associated with fraudulent returns.

Implement proactive prevention strategies: Take a proactive approach to prevent return fraud by implementing robust prevention strategies. Clear return policies, comprehensive employee training, utilisation of advanced technologies, and collaboration with external resources are key components of an effective prevention framework.

Safeguard business interests and provide a secure shopping experience: By combining the aforementioned prevention measures, retailers can protect their business interests and create a secure shopping environment for customers. Ensuring transparency, trust, and adherence to ethical practices are vital in building long-term customer loyalty.

Continuously monitor, analyse, and adapt: Preventing return fraud requires ongoing effort, including constant monitoring, analysis of fraudulent patterns, and adaptation to evolving tactics. By staying vigilant and proactive, retailers can effectively combat return fraud and maintain a strong defense against fraudulent activities.

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