Short Answer: Consequences for suspected return fraud vary by company, ranging from temporarily denying returns to permanently blacklisting and deleting accounts. However, you can usually dispute a blacklisting directly with the company or through the return fraud consulting firm The Retail Equation. For more information about return fraud and what to do if a store denies your return, see below.
Can You Get Blacklisted for Making Too Many Returns?
Blacklisting is typically reserved for extreme cases of return fraud, but you can face consequences if you frequently return items to a company, especially without a receipt. Many major U.S. companies — including Amazon, Best Buy, Costco, CVS, The Home Depot, Sephora, Target, Victoria’s Secret, and others — use algorithms to track and prevent excessive and fraudulent returns.
Many major chains, as well as other retailers, monitor and validate their returns using The Retail Equation, a consulting firm that uses statistical modeling to detect potential fraud when customers return items at retailers’ return counters. The system can deny a specific return, and it also reports customer activity to retailers for further action when necessary.
If you end up making too many returns, or if the system finds suspicious patterns in your shopping and return behavior, consequences will vary by company. Customers have reported being prohibited from making returns for a period of time at many stores, such as Walmart, which allows around three non-receipted returns within six months. In more extreme circumstances, some customers are indeed blacklisted and have their online accounts deleted.
Suspicious Return Behavior
The Retail Equation states that its retail partners accept about 99% of all returns; it relies on objective data to determine which returns are suspicious. Several factors are taken into account when determining if a shopper’s behaviors are potentially fraudulent, as noted in The Retail Equation’s FAQ. Some of these factors include:
- The number of returns you make in a short time frame
- Whether or not you have your original receipt
- Whether you are returning items that are frequently stolen
- Your purchase history and the percentage of purchases you return
- The value of the items you’re returning
- If you return items in used condition or with missing pieces
Note that these are factors of The Retail Equation’s algorithms; companies that do not partner with The Retail Equation may consider different factors, or may not have a system in place for tracking fraudulent behavior.
The best way to avoid being blacklisted is to follow a company’s stated return policy carefully and to keep records of your returns, especially those made without a receipt. For details of the return policies at a variety of retailers, see our previous research in our Returns & Exchanges category.
The Reality of Return Fraud
As of 2019, about 10% of all sales are returned, and 5% of those returns are fraudulent. During the holiday season, the percentage of fraudulent returns jumps to about 9%. Additionally, around 20% of all returns made without a receipt are fraudulent.
Some retailers have modified their previously relaxed return policies due to losses and return fraud, including L.L. Bean. Because retailers can’t sell many returned items, returns commonly end up sold in large lots at steep discounts by private sellers or on sites such as Liquidation.com or Secondipity.
What to Do If You Have Been Blacklisted
If a retailer that does not partner with The Retail Equation denies your return or blacklists you, you should contact that retailer’s customer service department directly and explain your situation, providing a receipt if possible.
If a store that partners with The Retail Equation denies your return, blacklists you, or deletes your account, you can contact The Retail Equation for assistance. While The Retail Equation is unable to provide a list of all of the retailers that use its services, it notes that the phone number to call will appear on your receipt. You will need to provide your transaction number, government-issued ID number, name, address, and phone number.
If you don’t have your receipt, you can also email The Retail Equation at email@example.com to request your Return Activity Report, or send a letter to the company at:
The Retail Equation
P.O. Box 51373
Irvine, CA 92619
The Retail Equation allows customers to dispute any inaccurate items on their Return Activity Report. Its policy is to advocate on behalf of the customer to resolve the issue with the retailer within 30 days.
For more about when you can and cannot make returns, see our articles about whether you can return an item to a different store and returning clothing without tags.