Organized Refund FraudScams Promulgated on Social Media are Costing Retailers Billions

April 5, 2024 | 7 min read

This image was created by artificial intelligence using the following prompts:

An organized thief holding a stack of boxes, merchandise, other packages and boxes are organized in bins in the background, A neat and tidy thief, high resolution, professional photography, natural light, simple and clean looking, in the style of red and teal.

Organized Refund Fraud

In a Nutshell

Refund scams are becoming common on social media. What happens when groups of scammers get together to scam more than one retailer at once, and what if they advertise their “services” to other would-be fraudsters? Most importantly, what can be done about it?

Combating Organized Refund Scams: What You Need to Know

It’s like something out of a heist movie. Fraud groups, organized like businesses, are exploiting lenient refund policies, robbing retailers of billions of dollars. And, according to CNBC, law enforcement discovered these scams in a very unusual way — a call to police from an Amazon warehouse.

Shortly before midnight on May 4, 2023, Chattanooga, Tennessee, police received a call to investigate a theft at an Amazon warehouse. Upon arrival, they were greeted by a loss prevention officer who pointed them toward Noah Page, a warehouse employee suspected of involvement, as detailed in a police report.

During the encounter, Page confessed to police that he had falsely marked a customer's order as returned in Amazon's internal system despite the items never being returned to the company. The employee was paid $3,500 for his involvement in the scheme.

Page was not acquainted with the customer, whom he arbitrarily named “Ralph,” according to the document. As it emerged, “Ralph” was associated with Rekk, a widespread refund fraud group that targeted large retailers and enticed company workers with a share of the illicit earnings.

Organized Refund Fraud
A refund fraud service claims to have access to Amazon insiders in a Telegram post.
Source: Telegram

So, there are really people out there who organize to rip off businesses through returns? In a word, yes. Scammers have taken to platforms such as TikTok, Reddit, and Telegram to promote these refund fraud schemes.

What is a Refund Scam Organization?

Refund services are essentially sophisticated scams targeting retailers on the customer's behalf. They blend elements of return fraud with what's known as fraud as a service (or “FaaS”). They're marketed across a broad array of online platforms to entice consumers.

These operations facilitate agreements between consumers and fraudsters online, aiming to illegally secure refunds. At their core, these services offer to negotiate a “refund” for the consumer in exchange for a fee. They don't limit their activities to the shadows of the dark web; they thrive in the open internet, too.

Refund Scam

These scammers leverage forums that link up-and-coming fraudsters with seasoned cybercriminals. Some even advertise their services on social media.

Once a consumer shows interest through online communication or forums, the fraudster initiates contact to iron out the details and ensure the refund. Fees for these services typically hover around 25% of the original purchase amount.

Through a mix of techniques, including social engineering, the fraudster will insistently request a full refund from the merchant's customer service, regardless of whether the purchase qualifies for one. The consumer ends up keeping the product and getting a refund, as the goods are not returned to the retailer.

Why Is This Happening?

Customers turn to these services for various reasons. It's not always about wanting to deceive someone. 

At times, they feel unfairly treated by a retailer that refused a refund. Or, they may not understand that such services are unlawful, thinking instead that these are legitimate "retail hacks" for quicker refunds.

Several external factors can drive consumers towards engaging in this type of fraud. Inflation and the rising cost of living, for instance, strain household budgets, making the prospect of getting money back through any means more appealing. Economic instability may further exacerbate this issue, pushing individuals to look for ways to stretch their finances. These conditions can create a fertile ground for refund services to thrive, as they offer a seemingly simple solution to complex financial challenges.

Under different circumstances, some might feel they were charged too much or that a purchase was made without their authorization. They're eager to recover their funds by any means possible as a result. Whatever the case may be, no sector is immune to the risks posed by refund service fraud.

Protect your business against refund scams & other fraud attacks.REQUEST A DEMO

Refunders often advertise their ability to secure refunds of up to $10,000 per transaction. They might also claim insider knowledge about which companies are more inclined to issue refunds without requiring the return of the purchased items.

How Big is the Problem?

Refund service scammers have escalated challenges for retailers across the board. They’ve effectively professionalized second-party fraud. And, this development is set to have significant repercussions for the retail sector. 

The National Retail Federation reports that, in 2023, retailers processed refunds totaling $743 billion. On average, for every $1 billion in sales, a retailer faces $145 million in merchandise returns. 

The overall return rate for 2023 to 14.5%. However, online purchases have a higher propensity for returns, with 17.6% of merchandise bought online being returned. This is compared to a 10.02% return rate for physical store purchases.

Return fraud alone accounted for $101 billion in losses for retailers. Moreover, for every $100 worth of returned merchandise, $13.70 was lost to return fraud.

These stats are partly attributed to the increase in online shopping following the pandemic. Nevertheless, the impact of a $100 billion loss is substantial by any measure.

It’s also important to point out that refund service fraud is merely one facet of second-party fraud. Other forms include schemes like fake merchant scams, money muling, and gift card laundering.

Consumers are not spared by these activities. The more companies lose to fraud, the higher costs will rise, which means that the ultimate victim of refund fraud is the consumer.

What Can Be Done?

In the face of rising refund service fraud, a coordinated, multi-stakeholder approach is essential to mitigate risks and safeguard the retail industry. Here’s what some of the stakeholders can do:


  • Enhance Verification Processes: Implement advanced verification methods for returns and refunds, using technology to authenticate products and receipts.
  • Data Analytics: Use data analytics to identify patterns indicative of fraudulent activity, enabling early detection and prevention.
  • Collaborate with Financial Institutions: Work closely with banks and payment processors to track suspicious transactions and enhance fraud detection mechanisms.

Social Media Companies

  • Monitor & Enforce: Vigilantly monitor content and enforce strict policies against the promotion of fraudulent activities, including the advertisement of refund services.
  • Educational Initiatives: Launch campaigns to educate users on the implications of fraud, both legal and ethical, and encourage responsible online behavior.
  • Partner With Law Enforcement: Collaborate with law enforcement agencies to identify and take action against networks promoting refund services.


  • Stay Informed: Understand the implications of engaging in or supporting refund fraud, recognizing its impact on businesses and the broader economy.
  • Report Suspicious Activities: Act responsibly by reporting offers of fraudulent services to platforms and authorities.
  • Ethical Shopping: Practice ethical shopping habits, resisting the allure of fraudulent schemes that promise financial gains.

Regulatory Bodies & Law Enforcement

  • Stricter Regulations: Develop and enforce stricter rules aimed at combating online fraud, including specific measures targeting refund services.
  • International Cooperation: Engage in international cooperation to tackle cross-border fraud networks, sharing information and best practices among countries.
  • Public Awareness Campaigns: Conduct public awareness campaigns to educate about the dangers of refund service fraud and the importance of ethical consumer behavior.

The fight against refund service fraud requires a united front involving merchants, social media platforms, consumers, and regulatory bodies. Through collective efforts, stringent policies, and continuous education, it is possible to significantly reduce the prevalence of this fraud and protect the integrity of the retail sector.

Like What You're Reading? Join our newsletter and stay up to date on the latest in payments and eCommerce trends.
Newsletter Signup
We’ll run the numbers; You’ll see the savings.
Please share a few details and we'll connect with you!
Over 18,000 companies recovered revenue with products from Chargebacks911
Close Form