Financial Crime: Inside the Amazon return scam that netted $300K in rare guitars, fancy toilets and high-end home entertainment systems

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What’s in the box?

A Virginia man pleaded guilty to ripping off

to the tune of $300,000 by buying high-ticket items and then moving to return them for full refunds but sending back far cheaper items in the box.

Farhaad Riyaz, 34, of Manassas, admitted that between 2017 and 2020 he purchased hundreds of items on Amazon, ranging from high-end electronics to rare guitars, but sent back substantially less expensive items after triggering a return.

For example, in 2019 prosecutors say Riyaz purchased a $37,000 Sony 4K HDR laser home theater video projector. When he received it, Riyaz claimed it had arrived too late, so he initiated a refund. But while his card was credited the full $37,000 refund, he instead sent back a Sony 1080p 3D SXRD home theater and gaming projector worth around $2,000, according to court documents.

When the FBI executed a search warrant on his home the following year, they found the more expensive system there, the documents said.

Messages left with Riyaz’s attorneys weren’t immediately returned.

Riyaz also admitted he bought numerous top-of-the-line Fender, Martin and Gibson guitars from third-party sellers on Amazon, but would send back inferior models. In one instance, he purchased a $2,700 limited-edition, flame-top Fender Telecaster but returned a $400 Squier Telecaster in the same color, prosecutors said.

In 2019, Riyaz was accused of buying four Toto toilets with electric bidets for $4,400 each, but claiming he never received one and only part of another. He then sought to return the whole order, triggering a $17,600 refund. He never returned the items, and prosecutors said all four toilets were found in their boxes in his house when the FBI searched it.

Riyaz managed to avoid immediate detection by using numerous Amazon accounts, credit cards and delivery addresses to make the purchases, prosecutors said.

In all, investigators say Riyaz made off with $300,000 in fraudulent refunds. Prosecutors say the case was built with substantial help from Amazon’s in-house fraud unit.

“Amazon is grateful to law enforcement for their thorough pursuit of this case,” an Amazon spokesman said. “Amazon has systems in place to detect suspicious behavior, and teams in place to investigate and stop fraudulent activity. There is no place for fraud at Amazon.”

Riyaz, who pleaded guilty on Monday to mail fraud, is scheduled to be sentenced on March 22. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

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