I once crossed paths with an individual boasting about his technique for getting free stuff. He would go online and search for people selling second-hand "nearly new" gear that was still within their warranty period, contact the seller and ask for model numbers, receipt numbers or other identifying marks claiming he wanted them to do background checks on the item whilst feigning extreme interest in the purchase of whatever it was. He would then take what he had learnt to the manufacturer/vendor and claim his product was broken, and he would like to send it in for repair.

Rather than sending the product, as he obviously did not have it, he would send a box that had been cut open/resealed in such a way that it was highly plausible the item was taken in transit by some nefarious person in the hauliers chain of command, when this was discovered at the receiving end he would act outraged and demand action be taken, usually resulting in the vendor sending him a new item in its place.

Obviously this whole act seems highly illegal, and probably falls under some form of social engineering scam and is clearly fraud, but what i want to know is what sort of legal ramifications can come about as a result of this scheme? Would it simply be a civil matter that, if discovered, would only be resolved by being taken to court in a civil case, or could the consequences possibly lead to things like jail time?

For the sake of this question and the fact it may differ country to country, lets say this event occurred either in the US or the UK (or some similar European nation) as these are the legal systems I am most familiar with

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    Fraud is a criminal offence in most jurisdictions. In the UK, this would be (potentially 3 counts* of) "fraud by false representation" contrary to Fraud Act 2006 §2—on each count the person could be both fined and imprisoned for up to 10 years (see §1). (*1: misrepresentation to the vendor of the aftermarket gear; 2: misrepresentation to the original vendor that he owned the gear and it was broken; 3: misrepresentation that it was lost in transit—the latter is easiest to prove).
    – eggyal
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 15:47
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    Ya that's fraud on many levels in the US. Not only is he defrauding the manufacturer/seller, but he's also committing Mail Fraud (using the mail service with intention to commit fraud), which kicks it up to the Felony level. There are heavy fines, and many years of prison time in store for your friend. In addition, the impacted parties, manufacture and seller, could sue for damages as well.
    – SnakeDoc
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 16:20
  • I believe every time a manufacturer has this happen, it ends up reported to law enforcement so that insurance will cover it. Law enforcement is unlikely to follow up on individual, small ticket items. Eventually there is enough accumulation of incidences associated with the person that it's investigated. Could take year for this to happen and years more for the investigation to get enough evidence to take it to court. It's not just mail fraud, it's also whatever else they can come up with. Penalties can include jail time as well as forfeiture of assets related directly or indirectly.
    – Ouroborus
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 17:41
  • Wonderful to hear.
    – James T
    Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 7:36
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    It's a really good point @Ouroborus is making. Sometimes, these cases are built in the background for years, while the person continues to commit crimes. These are monitored and recorded, ultimately used to build an airtight case with overwhelming evidence. The person, who thinks they're getting away with it, gets comfortable and continues the behavior. Then suddenly, one day, they get a knock on the door from a bunch of people wearing suits... and off to prison for them.
    – SnakeDoc
    Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 23:02

1 Answer 1


This is fraud. The defrauded party can sue for damages. The state can prosecute: in NSW the penalty is up to 10 years jail (s192E Crimes Act 1900).


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