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I can use Chrome's inspector tools to modify my local copy of the html on websites I visit. After changing the prices on a page in this way, for some websites I believe I can actually proceed through a checkout process, and buy items at whatever new altered price I want.

What kind of trouble can I get into for this - if any?

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    You cannot buy items at the different price, as a general rule. Websites typically do not entrust price calculation to the client side. – cpast Jul 21 '15 at 4:02
  • Followup to @cpast, even if they are showing it as the altered price on your side, most websites handle things like this by making calculations twice, once on the client side and once on the server side. You might not see the real price until you get your receipt, but you will not be able to purchase an item for less by changing the price displayed in your browser. – Jordan Bentley Jul 22 '15 at 20:22
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    @cpast is right. Any modern website that cares for its "well-being" should handle ALL sensitive information server-side for this exact reason. Altering HTML, JavaScript, etc. will only affect what you're seeing. PLUS, there is (should be...) backend methods to clean up anything you're sending their way to prevent you from inserting anything malicious server-side. It's been this way for many years, you're definitely not the first to see these potential security holes – Broots Waymb Jul 23 '15 at 21:56
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    If you want to test whether the site you're using is vulnerable to this attack, you can reduce your risk of prosecution by increasing the prices by a small amount. – phoog Jul 24 '15 at 3:04
  • @cpast Uh, I wouldn't be so sure of that, I am willing to bet there are a bunch of sites out there where the process in the question would result in alteration of the price, due to poor programming practices. – Andy Sep 9 '15 at 17:15
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Under the common law, you'd be committing a felony: theft by false pretenses. Each state has probably replaced the common law definition with a statute, and additionally there'd be a federal felony law for fraud via the internet. Even if the retailer noticed it and cancelled the transaction, they could still report you for attempted theft.

It is true that you'd be unlikely to face prosecution with higher priorities in law enforcement. Nevertheless it is a terrible idea to commit multiple felonies just because you are playing the odds that no one will care enough to charge you.

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You can get arrested for theft and/or fraud. This is not some new way to steal items; changing price tags started approximately the day after price tags were invented. Some state laws handle it explicitly, some implicitly; for instance, Maryland defines "deception" in its theft statute to include "(vi) remove or alter a label or price tag;" theft is committed if, among other possibilities,

(b) Unauthorized control over property - By deception.- A person may not obtain control over property by willfully or knowingly using deception, if the person:

(1) intends to deprive the owner of the property;

In other states, caselaw says that switching price tags is deception, and doing it for gain is fraud. See this California case in which switching price tags and buying the item is completed generic "theft by false pretenses" if the cashier didn't know you had switched the tags and relied on the new ones (in that case, the cashier knew so it was just attempted theft); see also this Nebraska case. Notably, the deception there is not tied to a statute saying "switching physical price tags is deception;" rather, it's deception because it involves knowingly making a false representation of a material fact (i.e. the true price of the goods) with intent to fool the store into thinking the real price is the lower one.

As a general rule, many criminal laws handle new technology by looking at how you're using it. If what you're doing would be flagrantly illegal if not done on a computer, it will likely be illegal if you use a computer.

Because you used the Internet, you might theoretically face further charges. If this is considered to be deception, you could in theory be on the hook for wire fraud. This is a federal felony offense. While small-scale offenses would more likely be prosecuted at the state level (and if you are federally prosecuted for one small fraud you'll probably face 0-6 months in jail instead of the 20-year maximum sentence for wire fraud), it is in fact a federal crime to commit wire fraud.

  • Are your comments purely speculative, or is there any case precedence on this? – smci Jul 21 '15 at 6:04
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    There are extensive citations to the effect that switching price tags at a retail store is deception, and deception for gain is fraud. If you're looking for a citation that electronic is no different from non-electronic, I'll point out that "deception" isn't an inherently electronic concept, and fraud doesn't have the element "not with a computer." While it's not an American cite, here is a Norwegian judge who takes it as a given that electronic price tag alteration is just as fraudulent as in a physical store. – cpast Jul 21 '15 at 16:25
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    Hence "you can get arrested." The asker asked what kind of trouble he can get into for this, which I read as "is it legal to do this." The answer is "it is not." – cpast Jul 21 '15 at 16:43
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    @smci I just don't see how your interpretation of the question makes any sense at all. This is a question on Law.SE, so it is about law. It is a question asking whether he can change the prices on ecommerce sites. The sensible interpretation is that this is a question about whether it is legal to change the prices on ecommerce sites and buy at the lower price. If someone asked here "can I cross the street wherever I want in the US," the correct answer would be "it is illegal to cross outside of crosswalks," not "you can do this because the police don't care." – cpast Jul 21 '15 at 18:49
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    a) is not on-topic on Law.SE. b) is not on-topic on Law.SE. d) is sort of on-topic, but much less so than c), and the question appears to be about c). If you don't think this addresses the question because it should talk about likeliness of prosecution instead of about whether this sort of thing is illegal, that's probably something for meta. – cpast Jul 21 '15 at 20:28

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