‘Friendly fraud’: Nearly half of Americans think wearing clothes and then returning them should be a crime

NEW YORK — Should wearing clothes and then returning them for a refund be a criminal offense? Nearly half of Americans think so, new research suggests. A recent study of 2,000 adults explores their views about policy abuse as well as “friendly fraud” – when a consumer requests a chargeback from their bank.

It reveals that 46 percent think wearing clothes for an occasion and returning them for a full refund, also known as wardrobing, should be considered a serious illegal offense. That’s not the only questionable loophole consumers take to save cash. How about creating multiple emails to take advantage of customer discounts or free trial subscriptions? Forty-three percent and 40 percent of respondents, respectively, think those are serious crimes too.

Compared to sentiment on dining and dashing (44% think it’s a serious crime) and secretly recording another person (45%), this research may represent growing awareness around online fraud.

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Forter, the survey also presents hypothetical scenarios to respondents regarding friendly fraud and policy abuse, which 55 percent believe is harmful to both consumers and retailers.

When asked which semi-shady activities they’ve considered doing in the last 12 months, a quarter admitted borrowing a friend’s subscription to avoid paying fees (25%).  Others have considered creating multiple email accounts to take advantage of free trial subscriptions (25%) and canceling or disputing a purchase with their bank despite the merchant fulfilling their order (24%). 

Is it ever OK to commit friendly fraud?

Hypothetically, items people felt most comfortable considering committing return abuse – returning perfectly good items or faking receipts to receive a refund – were big-ticket items like kitchen appliances (23%), electronics such as phones (22%), clothes (21%) and home essentials (19%). When specifically asked about a looming recession and whether that might change their likelihood to commit friendly fraud, 39 percent expressed they would likely do so, compared to 36% of those who said they wouldn’t engage in those types of activities and a quarter who remained neutral.

In terms of morality, the results were a bit mixed. The majority believe it’s never OK to steal from mom-and-pop and big chain stores (80% and 76%, respectively). However, more respondents find it acceptable to steal from big chain retailers than mom-and-pop stores (14% vs. 11%)

“The bottom line: friendly fraud is damaging to both loyal customers and retailers,” says Oksana Balytsky, director of product marketing at Forter. “Our goal is to enable trust within digital commerce so that the buyer’s journey is as seamless as possible without leaving room for fraud, ultimately saving millions in lost revenue.” 

And when respondents encounter an unpleasant retail experience, some think disputing a charge is worth the hassle. A third (35%) believe filing a chargeback claim with their bank is easier than going through a merchant’s customer service. Despite those thoughts, 67 percent have never disputed a legitimate credit card charge, while 27 percent have done so. 

What would a retailer need to do to make things right with the consumer so they don’t file a chargeback claim? Respondents suggest having good customer service (55%), providing a speedy refund (53%), credit/points (36%) and a complimentary free item (35%) as a start. 

Survey methodology:

This random double-opt-in survey of 2,000 general population Americans was commissioned by Forter between August 12 and August 17, 2022. It was conducted by market research company OnePoll, whose team members are members of the Market Research Society and have corporate membership to the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).

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