Thinking about returning that prom dress? Think again.

Prom dress

Image by ricklibrarian via Flickr

Thinking about returning that prom dress?  Think again, says Ian Ayres, professor of law and economics at Yale and Freakonomics contributor. You’re committing fraud, he says.  And that text book you purchased at the campus book store while waiting for the cheaper one to arrive from Amazon, all the while planning on returning the more expensive copy to the book store?  That’s fraudulent, too.

The law frowns upon people who make a promise that they don’t intend to perform.  If you commit promissory fraud, you can be tagged in many states with punitive damages, and you can be prosecuted for the crime of false promise.

What is promissory fraud?  Black’s Dictionary defines fraud as “A knowing misrepresentation of the truth or concealment of a material fact to induce another to act to his or her detriment.”  Promissory fraud, also known as a “common-law fraud, is “A promise to perform made when the promisor had no intention of performing the promise.” In this case, the promisor is the purchaser, of the text-book or prom dress, who “promises” to purchase the merchandise, but, taking advantage of easy return policies,  take the now slightly used item back to the store for a full refund.

As one  comment on the topic stated: “both of these items are being purchased for an event that is both finite in duration and singular in occurrence . . . [i]t is customarily or explicitly understood that the buyer will only be permitted to return the item for a refund before the usage occurs.”

Is it a perfect example of promissory fraud?  No.

Buying an item with a present intention of returning it for a full refund does not fit squarely with the elements of promissory fraud.  But it is still a species of fraud.  And you shouldn’t do it.  It’s wrong.

(Thanks to the New York Times and the Freakonomics blog)

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