Is this a scam? What's the angle here?
May 1, 2013 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Something fishy is going on in my store, but I can't wrap my head around it. Why would a customer buy/return around $25,000 worth of merchandise over the course of a few months?

I work in a bike shop with a very liberal return policy.

A customer has repeatedly purchased and returned the same bicycle worth nearly $4,000. The first time it was returned, he said it was because it was too small for him. He returned about a month later and purchased it and then returned it a few hours later, telling a different employee that it was purchased for his wife, but she decided it was too large. Another month goes by and he's done the same thing again, telling a different employee that it was for his brother-in-law, but again was returned because it's the wrong size. This has now happened four times, each with a different employee, and he tried it again this week.

We denied the sale to him this time because we all know the story and his name by now. He said he wanted to purchase it for his wife, but when we said "yeah, did you buy this for her about four months ago but said it was too big?". He seemed to get nervous, and we gave him an out by suggesting he bring his wife in so we can properly fit her.

When we pulled his purchase history across our stores, we see that he's purchased and returned over $25,000 worth of merchandise just this year. Every penny's worth of goods have been returned a few days later in perfect condition.

We've thoroughly checked the bike out to make sure that every part on there is what it should be. It's fine. We feel confident the bike is never ridden, and honestly it was probably never even taken out of his car. Buy, wait a day or three, return. Wait a month. Repeat.

I don't think he's ripping us off. We haven't gotten any chargebacks. Like I said, everything he returns is in mint condition, and we're able to sell it at full retail value. We've thoroughly inspected the bike every time and it's pristine and original. All purchases have been made with a credit card, and refunds go back to that card. It's not like he's buying with a card and getting refunded cash, or vice versa. Our best guess is that we're being used to launder money in some fashion. The guy seems shifty, and I don't get the impression that his purchases are a compulsion or obsession.

What could explain this?
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints to Grab Bag (106 answers total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
The only thing I can think of is it has something to do with entertainment. When I do low budget movies or photo shoots, we do a ton of buying whatever (props, clothing, etc). Use it or don't use it and then return it. Just a kinda far-fetched thought.
posted by ashtabula to opelika at 10:44 AM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

He's racking up airline-miles/cash-back/etc on his credit card's reward program?
posted by 0 at 10:44 AM on May 1, 2013 [28 favorites]

Maybe the credit card has a rewards point with a loophole, where he gets the points on purchases but they aren't deducted on returns. Do the purchase/return dates span a particular point of the month that might be a credit card statement closure date ?
posted by Kakkerlak at 10:44 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Could he be playing his points-earning credit card? Or some other loyalty program that doesn't cancel points when you return the purchase?
posted by Kololo at 10:45 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

He may be using the bike as bait. Advertising it on Craigslist and then maybe taking deposits on it?

Maybe he's using it as a prop? Impressing a girl or something?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:45 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

If it's the same bike, then I'm betting that it's a prop in a photoshoot or a film. This explains why they would want to buy the exact same bike over and over, rather than just buying any other merchandise. Maybe they need to shoot some extra scenes that they had missed the first time around, etc.
posted by suedehead at 10:46 AM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Fantasy purchasing? I have a friend who routinely bids early on eBay auctions for things she can't afford and knows she won't win, just to enjoy temporarily being the high bidder and feeling a sense of ownership.
posted by jon1270 at 10:51 AM on May 1, 2013

If it's the same bike, then I'm betting that it's a prop in a photoshoot or a film.

The timeframe doesn't make sense for a film. Several months? Unless they were doing reshoots, and even then, there would have only been one re-purchase. A film with such a low budget that they would need to return a goddamn bike would probably not do reshoots in the first place.

Other reasons that it probably wouldn't have been a film shoot:

-You need permission to use anything with a logo, and the best case scenario for a bike is that you would get product placement from a company. All cars on TV shows, for exmaple, are supplied by the manufacturer unless it's an old car or otherwise specialized car. I work on a show that has a deal with Volvo. The same probably goes for bikes. If you buy a bike, you're out all that money and still need to get permisson for logos and/or have to greek the thing so that it ends up looking kind of shitty.
-A $4,000 bike is a really expensive bike to use on a film shoot. No one would spend that much money on a prop when something half the price would work just fine.

My guess is that you're dealing with someone with a compulsion or a very generous credit card rewards program.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:55 AM on May 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't think it's a prop for a movie. The guy is listed on a prominent cycling forum and his profile lists him as owning this bike, and has been updated recently.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:56 AM on May 1, 2013

Well then perhaps he's trying to impress his bike nerd friends with the fancy bike he's pretending to own.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:59 AM on May 1, 2013 [22 favorites]

The credit card rewards thing seems unlikely to me, because that wouldn't require that he buy the same bike from the same shop over and over again. Though I guess he could be doing the same at every other local shop with a liberal return policy. But still, I'd expect rewards programmes to be wise to this kind of thing, or surely everyone would be at it.
posted by pont at 11:01 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your follow-up sounds like your answer. He's using this expensive bike to try to impress someone or many someones on that forum. Maaaaaybe he's never ridden it, maybe he just has it on display in his living room when said someone comes over to show that yes, he really does have that fancy bike and wow, look what an intense, rich biker he is.
posted by Eicats at 11:03 AM on May 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

If I were gaining points rewards I would buy something easily portable/storagable like jewelry or electronic., not the same bike from the same store.

Also, you save he has returned other things, more specifically, what has he kept (if any).
posted by saucysault at 11:05 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

"I can afford this bike."
"I can't afford this bike. What am I, crazy? It's four grand."
"I can totally afford that awesome bike now."
"I can't afford this bike. The roof on the garage needs to be replaced."
"I deserve that bike. I'm going to buy it right fucking now."
"You idiot, you can't spend four grand on a bike."
Repeat as necessary.

Alternately, do you have a particular attractive staff member that he always seems to find a way to engage during the process?
posted by Etrigan at 11:06 AM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

I bet the members of that "prominent cycling forum" would have some interesting comments on this story!
posted by nicwolff at 11:07 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are you really sure it hasn't been ridden? Perhaps he gets it home, replaces the tires with his own, and rides with the person(s) he wants to impress. Then after the ride, he puts your original tires back on and returns it.

You say it's always in pristine condition - has it been washed? Maybe use a washable marker and make a small discreet mark somewhere on the frame before he buys it again - then check to see if it's still there when he returns it. If it's not, then he's probably using it and washing it before returning it.
posted by trivia genius at 11:09 AM on May 1, 2013

Response by poster: We have ways of checking other than just tires. We are sure the bike has not been ridden.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:14 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah I would assume impressing people. Specifically, I would wonder if he's posting a picture like my embarrassing G+ profile - him with the bike over his head in the standard "I just completed a long ride" pose. Have you come across anything similar?
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:18 AM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Next time he comes in, have one person ask him about this in a friendly and non-confrontational way. He may tell you!
posted by yohko at 11:32 AM on May 1, 2013 [11 favorites]

Ooh, I know this is totally ridiculous, but hear me out:

What if he's not buying the bicycle? What if one of your employees stashes a certain amount of really good cocaine in the bike every few weeks and calls the guy? He comes in, he buys the bike, he takes out the coke, he returns the bike.

It seems inefficient, but I'm sure Carl Hiaasen could come up with a good reason why they're doing it that way.
posted by Etrigan at 11:35 AM on May 1, 2013 [26 favorites]

ablazingsaddle> -You need permission to use anything with a logo, and the best case scenario for a bike is that you would get product placement from a company.

No you don't. Budweiser and Stoli were pretty unhappy with the inclusion of their products in Flight, but they couldn't do anything about it because of free speech protections.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 11:35 AM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'll take "He's a poser for $500 thanks Alex". He's showing off, people come around to visit and sitting in his hallway is a $4K bike he can't really afford and doesn't ride. Maybe taking a few pics with it to post on facebook, and it's all kind of blown out of control so he's having to keep getting it to post more pics.
posted by wwax at 11:38 AM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

The guy seems shifty, and I don't get the impression that his purchases are a compulsion or obsession.

Lots of people with mental illnesses seem really "normal" to those who don't know them well. It could be that he has some sort of shopping addiction or something like that and this is his way of managing it. He knows it looks weird, which is why he's shifty about it.
posted by lunasol at 11:45 AM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

If I worked in your store and he came in I'd be dying of curiosity and I'd just ask him. "Hey, so we've followed up on your purchase/return history with us. I just have to ask, are you using our stock for photo shoots or something? We're all racking our brains trying to think of what you do with the stuff you buy and then return in perfect condition. Please put us out of our misery!" No matter how he answered (maybe even truthfully!), he'd at least know the store was on to him.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:50 AM on May 1, 2013 [10 favorites]

Your other option is to call your local police fraud squad and ask them this question.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:53 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

His mother gave him $4000 to buy a nice bike. Instead, he spent the money on something else. Now, every time his mother comes to visit, he has to show her the nice bike she bought him.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:59 AM on May 1, 2013 [60 favorites]

Is it the same card each time? Is it ever declined? If it's always a different card, perhaps it's a large test purchase, to verify the available credit on the card.
posted by ceribus peribus at 12:07 PM on May 1, 2013

I am going to throw out something less devious. He really likes the bike for some reason, doesn't really have the money to purchase it, and has poor impulse control. He keeps buying it and returning it because he really wants it, but really can't afford it.

lunasol's answer about him being a shopping addict or something seems as likely to me as anything.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:09 PM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Next time he comes in to return something, tell him your return policy has changed and he can't return it. See what he does.
posted by j03 at 12:32 PM on May 1, 2013 [7 favorites]

No you don't. Budweiser and Stoli were pretty unhappy with the inclusion of their products in Flight, but they couldn't do anything about it because of free speech protections.

And yet there are clearance departments in every major studio, tons of product placement agencies in Hollywood, and prop masters, art directors, and script coordinators are fastidious about this shit. There are some exceptions, but generally, if the label is in focus and featured prominently in a shot, you have to clear it. I don't know the legal nitty gritty, but that's generally how it's done.

That aside, this guy sounds like a Fake Fred Poseur and not a film prop master with a penchant for expensive bikes. Does he buy other things? Is he generally a good customer, or someone worth banning in general?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:32 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Could he be selling the bike, over and over again? He shows evidence that he has the bike in his possession, sells it, pockets the money, then returns the bike.

Alternate explanation: "Josh,[1] how are you getting along with that bike I gave you $BUCKS for last Xmas?" "Oh it's great, Aunt Matilda, you can have a look at it when you come to visit this afternoon"

[1] I have no idea why his name is Josh
posted by tel3path at 12:34 PM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

My first thought was similar to Etrigan's, that assuming it is not the same physical unit each time, maybe someone is using the bikes to smuggle something, presumable drugs. I have heard of this done with furniture.

Another more likely scenario is that he may have owned a similar bike, tweaked it or made some aftermarket modifications, and sold it for more than a new model costs. He may get requests to do similar mods and wants to secure the model before he discusses pricing for the mods with a prospective buyer, then return it when the deal falls through.
posted by Yorrick at 12:36 PM on May 1, 2013

Yorrick, but if it's the exact same bike every time, the modded bike sale must be falling through every time. Most people would have given it up for a bad job, wouldn't they?
posted by tel3path at 12:41 PM on May 1, 2013

Another explanation: he is somehow claiming the bike as a job expense, presenting the receipt as proof.

I don't know what kind of job would require someone to buy an expensive bike repeatedly, then not notice it was missing, though. But assuming it's enough to have one such bike in his possession when the inspector calls, that might explain this?
posted by tel3path at 12:45 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is he presenting the same credit/debit card for the refund? Perhaps charging to a credit card and getting a refund posted to a debit card tied to a bank account? Or even charging to his airline mileage card and getting the refund posted to a non-miles card.

Maybe he's claiming sales tax on his income tax for next year. But odds are there is something going on with the card(s) he is using. I wonder if he is doing this with other local area merchants.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 12:46 PM on May 1, 2013

he is somehow claiming the bike as a job expense, presenting the receipt as proof.

Exactly. He pays with his own money, the company reimburses him when presented with a receipt, he returns the bike and the refund goes back to his personal account tax free. Repeating the same scam would seem like a bad way to run it, but people are lazy.
posted by three blind mice at 1:07 PM on May 1, 2013

he is somehow claiming the bike as a job expense, presenting the receipt as proof.

Seems like a good explanation, but why such an expensive bicycle? My job had what I thought was a pretty generous bicycle reimbursement policy, but it was only $400. And I don't think he could do this more than once - any reimbursement would be one-time, or at most annual.
posted by iamscott at 1:09 PM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Film shoot makes the most sense especially if it's a hobby project where no one's paying attention to brand labels etc.
posted by edbles at 1:15 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Okay, the following:

- it's to and from the same credit card
- it's the same bike each time

suggests to me that it's the bike itself that's important, not the money.

Therefore, yeah, I would think maybe an employee was hiding drugs in it.

Alternatively, I would say that using the bike as a prop in a film was by far the most likely explanation. Like, a film made on the weekends for no budget whatsoever, and then he eventually gets a documentary made about him and his wacky filmmaking ways.

But then you say:

- he's on a prominent biking forum
- his profile lists him as owning this bike
- you are certain it has never been ridden he is doing this to convince the readers of that forum that he owns a $4000 bike. All the readers, perhaps, or maybe just one in particular.

He isn't riding the bike, nor is anyone else, but he does have to have it in his possession for several hours or weeks at a time. He can't be taking the bike on rides, because he'd have to ride it. Actually, I wonder if he is even going on rides, because why show up with a bike like this and then not ride it?

So, someone is going to see it, but it's not someone who would see him riding it.

I think it's someone who visits him for brief periods of time. If they were around for a month at a time they would notice he wasn't riding the bike. Therefore, waiting a month is supposed to fake you out in hopes you'll have time to forget and not notice it's him again.

A woman he's trying to impress by convincing her he's a bike rider when he's not? But that wouldn't work, because she'd wonder why they never go on rides together. (Hello hivemind, I met my BF on a cycling forum and we are scarily compatible, I couldn't believe how much we have in common! We even ride the same bike! Well, we're long distance but when I go and see him we never go for a ride together! At first I didn't mind this, because we had more important things to do than ride bikes fnar fnar, but now I feel all rejected and like he doesn't respect me as a fellow rider or something. Should I get therapy to cure me of my desire to ride bikes with my BF?)

Ditto a kid on periodic visitation, who (besides presumably being small) would go nutz if not allowed to ride the bike. (Though, stranger things have happened: estranged dad claims to have bought bike for son! Son comes home crying because never allowed to ride bike! Dad says it's because bike is for Son to grow into.)

I guess either of these things is possible, but again there is the likelihood that he has to show evidence of bike ownership to someone who paid for the bike. This suggests Aunt Matilda. But why doesn't he ever ever say it's in the garage?

And the last explanation is that it's pure posing for posing's sake. I could imagine someone being messed up enough to have a habit of claiming to own things they don't actually own, and dashing around maintaining facades left, right and centre.
posted by tel3path at 1:18 PM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another thing: if he is making a movie on his own with no budget, he may not know about the pros and cons of product clearance, or perhaps not care. Or he may be filming it in a way that the label doesn't show.
posted by tel3path at 1:25 PM on May 1, 2013

Some kind of insurance fraud, maybe? Like he claims his expensive bike has been stolen so insurance pays him for a new one?

The likeliest answer is trying to impress someone combined with buyer's remorse at spending so much money on an item he can't justify actually using, though.
posted by misha at 1:28 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

IANAL, so check with your own, but...

How about the next time he tries to buy that bike, you take a moment and tell him
"Hey look, you've bought and returned this bike × number of times. It's a big hassle for stocking/restocking and our credit card people have started raising some questions.

Now, you seem to be a nice guy who appreciates great bicycles and a great bicycle shop, but we are not trying to run a non-profit here.

Your constant purchases-then-returns, instead of helping support a local bike shop, are actually hurting us. To date, you have returned over $24,000 worth of merchandise. We are literally losing money every time you walk in the door—in wasted employee-hours spent checking, restocking, crediting, as well as not being able to assist other paying customers. A few employees have also started asking me questions about if our merchandise is somehow being used in some sort of scam or fraud* (this last sentence is optional).

So, in light of this, we are now forced to institute something we're informally calling 'The Josh Rule' which is as follows:

No same or identical item can be returned more than twice for non-defect reasons.

So, with that said, you need to understand that

If you buy this bike again today,
it is non-returnable.

And before we sell it to you, we will have you sign this document that says so. Do you understand?
Also, if he has the bike in his possession right now, when he tries to return it, just give the same spiel but include "Are you sure you want to return it, because this is the last return we will be giving you for this type of bike.". Also, instead of the [customer name] Rule you could call it the PX-19 Rule or whatever the model of that certain $4000 bike is.
posted by blueberry at 1:32 PM on May 1, 2013 [21 favorites]

Have you checked with other bike shops in your city to see whether he's engaging in this behavior in other stores as well? If it's to use as a prop, for example, it would seem likely that he'd just bother with the one store. If he needed it more often (for example, in the example of needing to "prove" ownership to someone who gave him money for it that he used elsewhere), and if he needed to return it each month before his credit card came due, he might be using other stores as well. Could help narrow down possible motives, anyways.

I think it would be helpful for us to know the other items he's been buying and returning too.
posted by mireille at 1:53 PM on May 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

A few things aren't clear. No idea if they are relevant, but you've piqued our curiosity so...:

You talk about this bike, but you also mention $25K worth of merchandise. What other things has he been buying and returning (do you sell fireworks, porn, beef jerky)?

Does anyone remember details of the first time he *purchased* the bike? That might provide some insight.

If someone who knew something about bikes saw him standing near the bike, would they find it plausible that it would fit him? Would they find it implausible that it would fit him?

There are lots of plausible explanations here. Among them, people going to great lengths to establish and maintain a fictional identity online for a variety of twisted reasons.
posted by Good Brain at 2:02 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's other merch too, not just this bike, right? You said he's bought and returned about $25,000 worth of goods overall. Are there other things he has bought but not returned? I'm guessing it's a poor impulse control thing, all the other explanations stop making sense if you think about the other $9000 worth of merch beyond the $16,000 accounted for by buying and returning this bike four times.
posted by Scientist at 2:04 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is it possible he's trying to build up a credit record? Would that even work?
posted by musofire at 2:19 PM on May 1, 2013

The thing about the receipt story (he needs the receipt, not the item) is that it works in lots of different contexts that we can't necessarily guess, but it doesn't explain why he always buys the same thing. He could have bought five or six different types of bikes and never stirred suspicions, except that you might eventually notice that he has racked up the chargebacks. Using the same bike over and over made the process harder (he had to find new salespeople each time, etc.)

So it has to be something about this individual item, but not its use, only its appearance, and that suggests photoshoots or something similar where visual identification will matter a lot.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:29 PM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

And if it were a poor impulse control thing, he might be buying the same make and model, but not the exact same bike.
posted by tel3path at 2:40 PM on May 1, 2013

Actually I think maybe Good Brain has it.

A broke guy with a debt problem, cannot pass his favorite bike store.

Inside it is his bike, the only one for him, they are meant to be together. He puts on the biking forum that this is his bike, because you create your own reality and if you behave as though you already have what you want, the thing you want will manifest in your life. (This thinking style is entirely consistent with being a debtor, too.)

He goes in, buys a lot of beef jerky and some porn, but he won't buy the bike until he can afford it... oh screw it. This time he's really gonna buy that bike.

He buys the bike. He is nervous as all hell knowing he is buying a $4000 bike he can in no way afford, not to mention that he has already spent $9000 on beef jerky for the sole purpose of justifying his presence in the store. He doesn't even like beef jerky. He's a vegetarian FFS! Nevertheless, he is buying this bike.

He puts the bike in his car. He can't wait to ride it.

But if he rides it, he can't return it! No, stop.

He puts the bike in his hall, promising he'll ride it tomorrow, or after he balances his checkbook once and for all in life.

Sooner or later reality hits him, and he takes *his* bike back to the store, with a heavy heart. He worries about his wife and his brother-in-law finding the attic crammed with $9000 worth of beef jerky that would be hard to explain.

Rinse and repeat.
posted by tel3path at 2:52 PM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

I don't think it has anything to do with the bike. It's the price. This guy wants the maximum easily refunded amount he can get in a single purchase. He's familiar with bikes and knows that's a good one. I can't think of many quick and easily returnable $4K items as good... Jewelry? Returns would be problematic. Cars? No way. Appliances? Too big. Electronics? Maybe, but returns can be dicey.

I'd wager he's after something related to airline miles/points. Perhaps some kind of point hacking.
posted by ecorrocio at 3:05 PM on May 1, 2013

Ok, how about this:

He has amnesia.

Every time he passes the bike store, he is struck by this wonderful bike, goes in, and buys it. He does not realize (choose one: he already has an expensive bike, he does not know how to ride a bike, he can't afford the bike, that it is medically inadvisable for him to ride bikes due to head injury, etc). Then, later, when someone fills him in, he has to go back and return it.

This quote:

when we said "yeah, did you buy this for her about four months ago but said it was too big?". He seemed to get nervous, and we gave him an out by suggesting he bring his wife in so we can properly fit her.

seems consistent with someone who may be aware they have amnesia, and feels embarrassed/nervous when they realize they've fallen prey to it again.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 3:13 PM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

If the bike were being used to smuggle drugs, would a police dog be able to tell after the drugs were removed? Do you have any friends on the force?
posted by CathyG at 3:16 PM on May 1, 2013

Most likely is trying to impress someone who comes over to his home every few months, at which point he needs to buy the bike again.... when they go away, he brings the bike back into the shop.

Second-most-likely is insurance fraud: 1) buy bike, 2) copy receipt, 3) insure it with a different company each time, 4) claim it's stolen, 5) bring it back to your shop for a refund. Rinse and repeat.
posted by easily confused at 4:16 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wouldn't an insurance company require a police report?
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:35 PM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think the only way you'll get to the bottom of this is by stalking his posting history on the bike forum you mention. Surely there'll be some mention of the bike that explains who he's trying to impress. On the other hand, if he never mentions it in his forum posts beyond the single mention in his profile, maybe the drug idea has some merit.
posted by MsMolly at 6:03 PM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

He wants it and can't actually afford it.
posted by windykites at 6:05 PM on May 1, 2013

My initial thought was that it's about the receipt.

Maybe not for a job expense. Maybe to justify something else ... to falsify records in a loan application, for example. This a pretty wild guess.

I like the insurance fraud explanation. And if he already had one bike stolen, then got the insurance check back and that's what gave him the idea, he could be using the police report from the original theft over and over again and just changing the dates.
posted by bunderful at 6:05 PM on May 1, 2013

People buy and sell drugs ALL THE TIME without the hassle and paperwork/records that this creates. It's a bike shop, not a bank: If an employee wanted to sell this guy some coke they could just meet out back by the dumpsters.
posted by hafehd at 6:06 PM on May 1, 2013 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Return fraud - not likely unless one of your employees is in on it and helping him switch out the prices and falsify the receipt, but it's a thought.
posted by bunderful at 6:16 PM on May 1, 2013

Mod note: Folks, I know this is a little out of left field but let's keep answers in the non-joke realm please?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:59 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the whole "bicycle-as-drug-mule" thing is a fanciful distraction.
"Hmm, I have some drugs to sell a guy... what is a way that I could both...
  • A: find a container that is much harder to hide things in, and takes a lot more effort than say, a false-bottomed bottle of bike-oil*...
  • B: ...said container should also be a high priced item, the repeated sale-and-return of which will maximize undue attention towards my illicit drug operation. It's genius! I am the next Stringer Bell!
* also, unless this guy was moving like 50 kg, you could probably hide a couple of pounds in a Chrome messenger bag in that hollow space between the canvas outside and the water-proofed inside sleeve—lord knows I've often found non-drug things months later that worked their way in there.
And no bicycle, no matter how nice, is going to fool a drug-sniffing dog.

posted by blueberry at 7:24 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'd doubt the drug idea too. People definitely move drugs internationally or by air concealed in cavities of innocuous items, and people holding/selling drugs might hide them in such places in objects they own, but I've never heard of merchandise being used to transport drugs locally. It's easier simply to set up a meet/drop point somewhere that isn't being observed.

And when people do transport drugs (internationally) inside other things, they usually do it in bulk (in, say, the side panels of a car) or in low-cost items (dolls or whatnot), and in either case they don't use the same item twice and don't raise any red flags on their purchase of the merchandise. Their goal, remember, is to be inconspicuous. Moving the same thing over and over, and buying it then returning it, is crazy conspicuous.
posted by jackbishop at 7:54 PM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Craigslist or eBay type scammer? "here's a pic of the bike & a copy of the receipt on this very lightly used, almost-new item."

Have you searched cragslist or similar for this brand of bike during one of his episodes?
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:52 PM on May 1, 2013

I'd like to remind everyone that the original poster explained that it's more than just a bike that has been bought and returned! So most of the theories above are null.

Quote: "He's purchased and returned over $25,000 worth of merchandise just this year. Every penny's worth of goods have been returned a few days later in perfect condition."
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:24 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Perhaps he is trying to sell this bike for a profit on Craigslist. He buys the bike for $4000 (maybe you are selling it for a good price or discount), and he tries to sell it for $5000 (maybe the bike's actual price). So, he posts it on Craigslist at no risk because he doesn't have the bike. Then, if someone inquires and seems serious, he quick buys the bike so he can show it to them. Also, to seem legitimate he creates a profile on the bike forum using the same easily searchable name and email address as in the ad. So then, if the person who found the ad on Craigslist is skeptical of the person selling such a high end bike and tries to search their name or email they will find a plausible backstory.

So if he sells it, he has now made $1000 profit, 4000 worth of airline miles or credit card rewards and also has $5000 in cash.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 12:06 AM on May 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

Is it his credit card? Have you IDed him?
posted by devnull at 1:22 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

If it's a cash back reward type of credit card, I think the answer is straightforward and it seems likely this guy is doing the same thing at multiple stores.

He buys high ticket, easily-returnable items with said credit card, gets cash back rewards, returns the items and repeats the cycle.

He's picking the same bike and other items because why not...he's been able to do it several times.

1% back on $25k of purchases adds up to a nice chunk of change. Assume he's doing this with multiple cards and multiple shops and makes a part or even full time job out of it; it's a pretty simple way to make money by playing with credit cards.

Charge, get cash back, return item, repeat.
posted by kinetic at 5:00 AM on May 2, 2013

Response by poster: I work today and will update ya'll tonight.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:29 AM on May 2, 2013 [11 favorites]

Could well be a scam, but my gut says he's pretending to own the bike. My dad owns a jewelry store and had a similar problem where a woman would come in, buy expensive jewelry with a credit card, then return it a few days later. Always seemed to happen around holidays and local events. She was basically buying stuff she couldn't afford, wearing it out being careful not to harm it, then returning it after the party was over.

You say he's not riding it, and I'm sure that's true. He's probably smart enough to know that if it shows wear, he's stuck with it.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:44 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

The fact that the purchases are about a month apart strongly suggest a credit card points/miles/cashback type of scheme. With that said returns typically are counted against existing charges; it really is a zero sum game.

When he comes back can you just tell him the bike is sold to another customer and see if he gets interested in another bike?

My bet is on his desire to keep up an image of some sort.
posted by teg4rvn at 10:36 AM on May 2, 2013

I just want to add: I worked for many years for a Very Large retailer famous for our Very, Very, Very liberal "no questions asked" return policy.

And yet. There were certainly people who got shut down from returns, for a variety of reasons. So, from a business standpoint, don't be afraid to ask the shop to take a firm stand on this.
posted by anastasiav at 12:51 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

He returned $25k worth of merchandise. But did he buy and keep a lot too?

When I finally break down and buy clothes, I buy a ton, without trying anything on at the store. I'll buy the same pants in 2 or 3 different sizes, for example.
Then I haul it all home, try stuff on at my leisure, keep 20%, and return the rest. Why? It's just easier and less annoying that spending hours in a store's dressing rooms.

Could this guy be doing something similar, but with more expensive stuff?
posted by LonnieK at 2:32 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe he really enjoys the possibly somewhat obsequious level of customer service that comes with buying a $4,000 bicycle.
posted by onlyconnect at 2:34 PM on May 2, 2013

Response by poster: He hasn't kept anything. It's all been returned. It's the bike a few times (~16k) and then a bunch of other high-end stuff (derailleurs, chains, sunglasses, tools). Most of the returns are done 4-7 days after the item is purchased.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 2:38 PM on May 2, 2013

Then it's either False Self Maintenance or film props.

I can't help thinking a shopaholic would keep at least some of it.

Not that I'd know. And I definitely don't have $9000 of beef jerky in my attic.
posted by tel3path at 4:17 PM on May 2, 2013

Response by poster: He at least stole the cranks off the bike.

I can't believe we didn't catch this earlier. I found his facebook account, found pics of the bike, and noticed the cranks were swapped.

Oh, and it's a ~$6500 bike, not a ~$4000 bike, so that also accounts for a bigger portion of his purchase history.

fucking asshole
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 4:24 PM on May 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: He also stole the shifters.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 4:38 PM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

That sucks OP. I read about a scam similar to this where three people stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from Home Depot by swapping bar codes on merchandise.
posted by hamsterdam at 4:43 PM on May 2, 2013

Sounds similar to the rental car parts scam. You want to replace and/or upgrade some parts on your bike, but buying new parts costs money. Instead, just "rent" the most expensive bike you can, and swap out the parts before returning it.
posted by ceribus peribus at 4:51 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: He also stole the front derailleur.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 4:56 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you hadn't already thought of it: ban him entirely. Ban him from entering the store, ban him from buying anything, and ninety-'leven-times BAN HIM FROM EVER MAKING ANOTHER REFUND, at ANY of your store's branches.

What a jerk.
posted by easily confused at 5:20 PM on May 2, 2013

Wow! So what can you do? Can you cancel the return since he did not really return the merchandise as claimed? If not maybe you should let him buy a bike one last time and then not allow him to return it so he is on the hook for the entire purchase.
posted by onlyconnect at 5:23 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, banned. And we're kicking ourselves in the ass for not catching this. It looks like we compared the bike to the wrong spec list when it came back to us (it was returned multiple times to another location and once to us).

Between the cranks, shifters, and derailleur he has an ~$870 upgrade. Not too shabby. This also explains the new chain he needs, the tools, and the fucking repair stand. How am I going to work on two bikes at home? Oh yeah, I know, I'll just buy and return a repair stand from them.

I love the idea of letting him buy it and then not return it one last time.

posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:26 PM on May 2, 2013 [12 favorites]

So, have you talked to the police? Wouldn't this be grand theft?
posted by blueberry at 6:29 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

That suuuucks. I do like the idea of letting him buy it just one more time.

Out of bike-nerd curiosity, what kind of components etc did he steal? Dura-Ace Di2?
posted by supercres at 7:01 PM on May 2, 2013

It looks like we compared the bike to the wrong spec list when it came back to us (it was returned multiple times to another location and once to us).

I wonder whether the first time he did it was a test run to see what you check, then maybe he swapped out one small thing, and has just been picking pieces off it one at a time.
posted by Etrigan at 7:06 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: XTR Cranks, XTR derailleur, XTR shifters, XTR/Dura Ace chain, XTR 10 speed cassette.

Basically upgraded from XT 3x10 to XTR 2x10.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:29 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Etrigan, I believe that's exactly what he did. Comparing the pictures on facebook with the purchase/return dates, it's all adding up.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:56 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it would be wise for you to download any of those photos he has posted, or take screenshots of those dated pages.
posted by blueberry at 8:32 PM on May 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Please report this to the cops and have him arrested and prosecuted.
posted by Unified Theory at 8:37 PM on May 2, 2013 [11 favorites]

If it turns out that it's not worthwhile to prosecute him, you can at least shame him publicly. Get on those cycling forums and let everyone know what a delightful fellow he is. If he's sufficiently vain, this might be more painful for him than being forced to pay restitution.
posted by pont at 3:46 AM on May 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

No don't shame him publically, that would Make You A Dick TM.

He'll be back. Let him buy the bike again. And then subtract part and labour costs :)
posted by devnull at 3:57 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

WOW. I waited all afternoon for the update, what an asshole. This dude right here is why some retailers have to have Draconian return policies that screw regular people over. Can you imagine the shitstorm if someone else had purchased that bike in the meantime and noticed what you all didn't? You'd be defending your company against fraud allegations, FFS. I worked retail for years, and scammers are THE WORST... please, prosecute this ass and update your return policy, and man, I feel for you.
posted by polly_dactyl at 7:04 AM on May 3, 2013 [8 favorites]

Yeah definitely report it. Even if, by accepting the return, you may have legally (no idea, IANAL etc) waived your chances of prosecuting him for theft, surely they'll be interested in nailing him for fraud or something similar?
posted by greenish at 8:52 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Non-bike-guy here. So this guy owns the bike (frame) and has been swapping out brand-new crappier parts for brand new upscale parts? Not to make you feel worse, but is there a grey market for knock-offs of these parts that "look" like the originals or did you just flat out not notice what is now an obvious change. My point is...if you called the cops is it obvious the parts are visually different?...and...couldn't he say that you gave him a bike with crap parts and *you're* the one committing fraud? Tread carefully.
posted by teg4rvn at 10:55 AM on May 3, 2013

While I appreciate the idea of publicly shameing this jerk on the local bike forums, that might just cause trouble for your store, especially if you can't have him arrested for these thefts. (YOU know he stole those parts, HE knows he stole those parts, but it might be really tough getting him legally charged after-the-fact like this, with your only evidence his facebook photos.)

But this guy has to be stopped, right? So maybe try this: WITHOUT posting the jerk's name or a photo of his face, post this whole story to those local bike forums. Post the photos of him and the bike with his face obscured. Talk about how the bike and the other items were bought and refunded repeatedly, and how those parts were swapped out. MENTION THE BIKE AND THE PARTS BY BRAND, COLOR & MODEL: this way, if anyone else on the forums sees him with his shiny new parts, even without his name they'll be able to put two and two together, and know who the thief is.
posted by easily confused at 3:39 PM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah, don't forget to prominently post his picture in all of your stores, with a big 'BANNED!'
posted by easily confused at 3:46 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

OP, if you have time (and if you're still reading the thread), I'm interested in what you mean when you say:
> We have ways of checking other than just tires. We are sure the bike has not been ridden.
Can you please elaborate on what these are?

Not trying to be a dick here, very sincerely, but what ways do you have to check to see if it's ridden that also don't simultaneously notice/check to see that the crankset, shifters and front mech have been swapped?

(I also really appreciate the updates you've provided in the thread; they've provided a satisfying conclusion to a compelling mystery.)
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 3:48 PM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

So maybe try this: WITHOUT posting the jerk's name or a photo of his face, post this whole story to those local bike forums. Post the photos of him and the bike with his face obscured.

I would resist the temptation to do even this. If a picture of him with his face blurred is still enough to identify him, it's essentially the same thing as a picture of his face. If you're not going to involve the police (and I think you should, because this is what police and courts are for), then suck it up and refuse his business the next time he comes in.
posted by Etrigan at 4:26 PM on May 3, 2013

Response by poster: Basically on a bike with disc brakes, you can see how much of the pads have been burnished on the rotor from normal braking. We give it a very light burnish after we build the bike so the customer doesn't have to deal with brake burn in. You can also look at clipless pedals as they'll have surface scratches from clipping in.

The bike was returned by someone in customer service, and all they looked at was the receipt. To them, nothing was suspicious. The bike was brought to a mechanic and they checked it for mechanical integrity, not for fraud.

A few days later, when the purchase history of this customer came to light, we then looked at the components, but were comparing them against the wrong bike (the bike the customer originally bought from a different store). Since all the components were matching up, it didn't raise a flag.

It was only after I found the guy on Facebook that we figured out we were looking at the wrong model. Think Honda Civic SE instead of S.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:36 PM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'd love to hear anymore developments on this story - are you going to legal authorities, does he try and return it again, etc, etc!
posted by packfan88c at 9:30 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please post if he comes in again!
posted by molecicco at 11:39 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'll keep you updated. Right now the $6500 bike is off our floor for because it's evidence, so that sucks. The guy is banned from the store obviously, and the authorities have been notified. I doubt any charges will be pressed because this would be nearly impossible to prove. We are praying he comes back in to buy it again, because if he does we'll sell it to him and then not let him return it. Problem solved. Local bike shops have been notified (we get weekly emails from every shop in town about this type of stuff). Ask me for the best part at a meet up.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:18 AM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

But if he's banned how could you sell it to him again? (Don't get me wrong I totally want you to, I just am worried you will tip him off with the banning etc.). Anyway, good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 7:02 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Basically he can only buy the bike. I think he's spooked and won't be back. I think we tipped our hand already.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:00 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

He might be spooked, but he's already been very stupid and risky about the whole thing. He's returned the same bike multiple times, he might be stupid enough to try it again.

Also, he can already afford a pretty nice bike (assuming it's not also stolen), so he can probably afford the upgrades. This isn't just about free stuff, it's about the thrill, and feeling clever about getting away with something.

Another option besides making him keep the bike would be to carefully document everything about the bike, notify the police when he buys it, and then notify them again when it's returned. A citizen's arrest is even possible. Large stores that have theft retention teams use citizen's arrests all the time when stopping shoplifters. I would talk to the police about your options.
posted by mokin at 9:08 PM on June 4, 2013

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