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Should returning clothes bought to wear once be illegal?

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Should wearing clothes and then returning them for a refund be considered a serious crime? Nearly half of Americans think so, new research suggests.  

A study of 2,000 adults examined their views about policy abuse and “friendly fraud” (when a consumer requests a chargeback from their bank), and revealed that 46% think wearing clothes for an occasion and returning them for a full refund, also known as wardrobing, should be considered a serious illegal offense.

How about creating multiple emails to take advantage of customer discounts or free trial subscriptions? Forty-three percent and 40% 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 presented hypothetical scenarios to respondents regarding friendly fraud and policy abuse, which 55% believe is harmful to both consumers and retailers.

When asked which activities associated with friendly fraud and policy abuse they’ve considered doing in the last 12 months, a quarter said 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%).

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% 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,” said 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% have never disputed a legitimate credit card charge, while 27% 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.

“We believe providing consumers with seamless online shopping experiences is critical to a merchant’s success—and that includes issuing returns and refunds,” added Balytsky. “We help our customers enhance their policies and customer experience, all while reducing fraud.” 

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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