Any retailer budgets for broken goods, shoplifting, and other losses, and Amazon is no different. But because of the volume of sales and a customer-forward policy, the gargantuan online marketplace appears to rarely investigate claims of broken or unreceived goods, opting instead to replace or refund—no questions asked. That’s how Indiana couple Erin and Leah Finan scored $1.2 million in electronics.
For Amazon scammers, it’s the oldest trick in the book.
The husband and wife duo scored “GoPro digital cameras, Microsoft Xboxes, Samsung smartwatches, and Microsoft Surface tablets” according to a Department of Justice press release from when they (and an alleged “fence” named Danijel Glumac) were charged in May. More recently, the Finans pleaded guilty, and now each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Amazon’s return grift has been known for years, both within hacking circles and among sellers who have been scammed. Buyers risk getting banned for too many missing or defective item claims, but the Finans made “hundreds of false online identities” to avoid detection, and were finally caught not by Amazon but by the Indiana State Police and the IRS.
While their plea agreement stipulates that the Finans will pay Amazon restitution of $1,218,504, authorities said that the Finans only made $725,000 off the scheme due to the nature of trafficking stolen goods through a fence and across state lines.
For a company worth over $500 billion, the Finans’ scheme was chump change, but the case sends a wider message meant to discourage the use of this trivially easy exploit.