Return Fraud: Is Returning Used Merchandise Illegal?

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Can you be arrested for returning a used item of clothing to a store?

The short answer is – yes, it is possible.  So, here is the law, and how to stay out of trouble.

The practice of buying clothing, wearing it once or twice and returning it to the store is called “wardrobing” and it costs stores almost $10 billion dollars a year.  That’s a lot of blouses.

As wardrobing becomes more and more prevalent – especially with more people buying clothes online and with the liberal online return policies – I would expect retailers to keep tabs on returns more and to turn people over to authorities more in the coming years.

How would you get in trouble?  You would be arrested for fraud.  Fraud consists of 4 elements:

  1. A misrepresentation of a material fact;
  2. By a person or entity who knows or believes it to be false;
  3. To a person or entity who justifiably relies on the misrepresentation; and
  4. Actual injury or loss resulting from his or her reliance.

In that light, you will not get in trouble if you comply with the store return policies, no matter how liberal.  Most stores allow returns within a specific period of time if the clothing is still in new condition.

Most people get in trouble when they lie about whether they had worn the clothes before but usually, because of the difficulty in proving the “lie” or “misrepresentation of material fact” in legal-talk, more stores will simply refuse the refund.

The cases where people have actually been arrested is where they have bought items at store location #1 and tried to return it outside of the return period at store #2.  If the stores somehow communicate and can prove this, our fashionista might end up wearing a new orange wardrobe.

In any case, you can never go to jail for fraud if you are honest when you are returning clothes.  Trust me – those shoes are not worth it.

Jeremy Hogan
Jeremy Hogan
Attorney Jeremy Hogan is a partner at Hogan & Hogan.