Money & Ethics


Consumer Tricks to Get Something for Nothing

Knight Kiplinger

Some too-savvy consumers take unintended advantage of stores' special offers. The cost is often passed on to honest customers.



Q. I have a twentysomething friend who seems to delight in gaming retailers and other consumer businesses—with returns of used merchandise, improper coupon use, multiple freebies and so on. She doesn’t see anything wrong with this. I disagree. What’s your take?

See Also: Knight Kiplinger's Money & Ethics Quiz

A. More and more shoppers—especially Web-savvy young adults—are using a variety of unethical tricks to get something for nothing. It’s costing stores and other businesses billions, and this cost is passed on to honest customers. Here are just a few of the shady practices:

-- “Buying” a product with no intention of keeping it, using it briefly, and then returning it for a full refund—a tactic used for everything from clothing to tools to electric generators. (Did these cheats ever hear of rental stores, which handle virtually every kind of product, including high-end fashion and wedding gowns?)

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-- Spending enough to get a free gift, then returning everything, except for the free gift, for a full refund.

-- Sharing an account for online access to first-run movies and newspaper subscriptions among several friends, all of whom use the same password.

-- Renewing a longtime magazine subscription at a deeply discounted price intended only for new subscribers.

-- Using multiple e-mail accounts to register as a “first-time buyer” in order to get new-customer discounts and freebies.

-- Finding discount coupon codes online and using them for special deals intended only for a retailer’s best customers.

The list goes on and on. According to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times, “some consumers call this a form of retail Robin Hooding”—stealing from big corporations that, they feel, routinely take advantage of their customers and employees.

Some retailers are fighting back by tightening their return policies and charging for “restocking”—in essence, imposing a usage fee for the short-term rental of returned merchandise. Many retailers are requiring returners to show ID and are keeping a database of serial returners.

Have a money-and-ethics question you’d like answered in this column? Write to editor in chief Knight Kiplinger at ethics@kiplinger.com.



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