Half of People Say This Common Shopping Habit Should Be Illegal, New Study Finds

You might be guilty of doing this with your purchases.

Appropriate behavior when shopping is pretty cut and dry. You refrain from intentionally damaging merchandise and don't walk out without paying for your items, as either move could land you in real trouble with store security—and maybe even law enforcement. On the other hand, there's one common shopping habit that's not illegal, but that many people seem to think should be. Read on to find out what nearly half of Americans say should be punishable by law.

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Returns can sometimes be a bit tricky.

If you make a purchase and end up changing your mind, you'll probably want to make a return and get your money back. Most retailers make this simple enough when bringing items back to the store, although paying attention to the fine print is important, just in case an item was marked as "final sale" or isn't able to be returned. If you ordered something online, it can be a bit more complicated as well, especially if you're need to ship your items back.

Some stores comp return fees as a way to attract customers, but recently, popular clothing retailer H&M announced they would be testing out the idea of charging shoppers for returns made by mail. This isn't a novel practice, as stores like Kohl's and JCPenney also no longer cover the cost of returns when they're shipped back.

But some shoppers have turned the tables on retailers when it comes to returns—and while the practice is arguably unethical, it's not against the law.

Americans say this shopping habit is questionable.

A survey conducted by OnePoll, on behalf of fraud prevention company Forter, asked 2,000 Americans about their thoughts on questionable shopping habits. A key question asked about "wardrobing," which is the practice of wearing clothes and then returning them for a refund. This is generally frowned upon, and stores often have a disclaimer on receipts about returning items that've been worn.

If you've ever done this, your fellow shoppers aren't too happy with you, as 46 percent said that they believe wardrobing should be a "serious legal offense." In fact, 46 percent of respondents also said that wardrobing was even worse that secretly recording another person or leaving a restaurant without paying the check, a crime known as "dine-and-dashing."

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You might not even realize you're committing "friendly fraud."

The OnePoll survey was conducted in order to gauge reactions to policy abuse in the retail sector, as well as "friendly fraud," a term used when someone makes a purchase and then intentionally disputes the charge with their bank to get a refund. Within the survey pool, 24 percent have said that they have canceled or disputed a charge with their bank–even if they ended up receiving their purchases.

If you're shaking your head saying that you wouldn't ever do something like this, think again. It's not just clothes, as using a friend's Netflix or HBOMax subscription to dodge fees could be considered fraud and policy abuse. Over the past 12 months, 25 percent of survey respondents said that they've considered doing this.

When it comes to creating multiple emails to access additional free trial subscriptions, a quarter of people said that they've done this too. On the flip side, 40 percent of respondents said that like wardrobing, this practice should be considered a serious crime.

Morality was brought into question.

looking at receipt
Madrolly / iStock

At the end of the day, committing friendly fraud and abusing return policies bring your moral compass into question. A majority of survey respondents, 55 percent, believe that both habits are detrimental to consumers and retailers.

In terms of what retailers you're fooling, a large majority of respondents said it's never okay to steal from either a mom-and-pop shop (80 percent) or major retail chains (76 percent). When comparing the two, however, people had less of an issue with stealing from big chain retailers versus mom-and-pop shops. The items they felt most comfortable returning with a fake receipt—or those that are in otherwise "perfectly good" condition—were more expensive kitchen appliances, electronics, clothes, and home supplies, per survey data.

Researchers also took a potential recession into account. When asked if a more troubled economy would affect whether or not they'd commit friendly fraud, 39 percent of people that it would make them likely, while 36 percent said they still wouldn't engage, and 25 percent remained neutral.

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