Many retailers hire outside company to track shoppers' returns

Stores hire The Retail Equation to create return profiles as way to combat fraud

If you return a lot of merchandise to stores, you could soon find yourself blacklisted. Many retailers are turning to an outside source to track returns along with your personal information.
When you make a return, most places ask for a photo ID. But beware. When you hand it over, your name, address, date of birth and ID expiration are being filed away along with a copy of your original sale receipt.
Best Buy, Victoria's Secret, Bath & Body Works and thousands of other stores are using the same outside company, The Retail Equation, to create your return profile. It's a detailed history of anything you return at any of the stores they work for.
If you make a lot of returns, this will very likely start to effect the way you shop. Tiffany Scarborough, a mom from Jacksonville, Fla., said it's already causing her some inconvenience.
"I return things a lot," Scarborough said. "If they don't get used, I return them."
When we interviewed Scarborough, she was returning a baby walker at Babies R' Us. She explained that had the gift come from Target, there would have been an issue.
Scarborough said she's been banned from making returns at Target because she brought too much back in a short period of time.
"If I need to return something at Target, I ask my husband to return it because he hasn't have as many returns as I do," Scarborough said.
Retailers say the purpose of the tracking system is to spot suspicious activity and possible return fraud, not just by shoplifters and chronic returners, but organized crime. Retailers lose billions every year to return fraud.
With this new system, shoppers like Scarborough claim they're being punished.
"It's annoying because you get duplicates of things, especially when you have a kid," she said. "People give you stuff all of the time and you don't need two of the same thing."
The Retail Equation doesn't share specific customer returns data amongst retailers. Therefore, Home Depot doesn't know you've returned something to Victoria's Secret. In an effort to address privacy concerns, The Retail Equation offers consumers a copy of their return activity report.
This report originated with our sister station, WJXT-TV, in Jacksonville, Fla.

For a list of recent stories Marilyn Moritz has done, click here.

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