The empty box return

This iPad box was returned with clay inside to simulate the weight of the iPad.
This iPad box was returned with clay inside to simulate the weight of the iPad.

This is really a simple scam. You go in and buy an iPad or Apple MacBook Air laptop with real money, preferably cash so they can’t trace anything back to you. Since there was no crime committed yet you make it home safely. So far, so good.

When you get home you use some chemicals and razor blades to carefully open the box without breaking the seals. Or maybe you carefully slice open the side of the box so you can reseal it without anyone noticing.

However you do it, you take the real iPad or laptop computer out of the box and have a good laugh with your friends. Don’t turn it on or the tracking info in it will trace back to your living room if Apple figures out there is a problem in your area and decides to help the police. Anyway, you take some pictures of it on your coffee table and post it on Craigslist or eBay for maybe half what you paid at the store. Then you put a fake (but heavy and similar looking) item back into the box and reseal it. One of the keys here is to make sure the seal isn’t broken so that the store employees don’t open the box to check and make sure the real device is in the box. You want them to think you never opened it and it is a simple return.

These are even more expensive than iPads.
These are even more expensive than iPads.

Then you go back to the store an hour later with your real receipt and ask for a cash refund. You mumble something like your cousin already had one so you gotta go get another present or something like that. If the seal isn’t broken the store will just put it back on the shelf. They won’t open it up to check because they don’t want to sell it at a discount as a return. Check out the video in this news story that actually shows the inside of an iPad box a woman bought from a Wal-Mart that was stuffed with notepads to make up the weight. Last year there were a rash of these swaps happening in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Some of these packages are shrink wrapped, which is even better. It is super easy to get the shrink wrap material and anybody with a hair drier and a little time to practice can make the package look exactly like a real one. You don’t have to mess with bad chemicals to lift off the sticky seal. This scam gets a little difficult if you’re skying on meth or drunk as a skunk but otherwise it works really well. There are even websites devoted to the practice. I am not going to link to any but a simple Google search produced a whole bunch of them.

Variation #1, the fakeout:

If you don’t want to bother with the work needed to get the electronics out of the package without ripping the seal, you just take it back and say it was filled with the fake you put in there. You mention you heard about this scam on the internet and say something like “Wow, I didn’t know it would happen here!”

Variation #2, the lazy version:

15198260_BG1You take back the empty box and say “Hey, there was nothing inside. Can I get my money back?” Think I’m kidding? Check out this article on the Cult of Mac website byclicking here. You can read the original but brief news story by clicking here. The two who pulled this one off in the article are in these surveillance photos. Doesn’t seem like the clerks were too smart, but that’s why they call this a ‘scam’ you dummy.

-Samuel Owen

© Samuel Owen 2012. All rights reserved. Please read important notices and disclaimers by clicking here.

2 thoughts on “The empty box return”

  1. So, I bought a DropCam Pro from Home Depot and I open it up and there’s a can of tomatoes inside!! I was flabbergasted but then I went back to look at the shrinkwrap and see that it is clearly done in someone’s home (unfortunately I didn’t notice when purchasing the item). It appears that someone pulled off this scam, returned the item, and unfortunately I purchased it. What do I do?? I am going to try to return it at Home Depot tomorrow but I am worried that they will not believe my story. Thanks.

  2. I saw a variation on this around 2002-2003, and I had to give points for creativity. These guys would go to a Best Buy or other such store and purchase the latest and greatest video card, run home to install it, and they’d put the old one in the box to return it the next day and haggle with the manager until they got their money back. It looks legit because hey, who knows what bare components are supposed to look like, right? It might have gone un-noticed once or twice, but it was a fair number of people doing this and eventually they all went down.

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