Frequently Asked Questions

About The Retail Equation (TRE) Return Authorization

What is The Retail Equation?

The Retail Equation (TRE) is a software and analytics company headquartered in Irvine, California, USA. It is a service provider that helps retail companies detect and prevent potentially fraudulent returns and reduce return policy abuse.

What is TRE Return Authorization?

If a retail company has problems with return fraud or return policy abuse, it can hire TRE to help prevent the problems. TRE Return Authorization is the software used to recommend for that retailer to approve, warn, or deny a return.

What is the difference between a warning and a denial? Is it permanent?

A warning allows you to complete your return but limits your ability to make another return. A denial means your return will not be accepted, and future returns may be declined. TRE assesses each time you make a return to determine if the recommendation to warn or deny is still necessary based on data provided by the retailer and the retailer’s return policies.

Retailers have the option to permanently block any consumer from making returns if that consumer has a history of fraudulent returns behavior.

How does the system work?

TRE Return Authorization examines the purchase and return data from a specific retailer. It examines the in-store and online transactions and connects them with an ID number—such as a form of payment or government-issued ID. The system then analyzes that consumer’s return history with that retailer to identify activity that appears to be fraudulent or abusive or in violation of the retailer’s return policies.

Why would TRE recommend that a return be warned or denied?

About 1% of the time, TRE will recommend to a retailer that a consumer be given a warning or that the return be denied. Refused returns generally fall into two categories:

  • Returns that break that retailer’s basic return policy such as asking for a return after the allowed return period, returning a non-returnable item, making a return without a receipt, or making more returns than a retail company allows within a specified time.
  • Returns that make the consumer’s return behavior at that retailer indicate return fraud or abuse, such as returning an item after removing some of its parts.

The refusal of a return does not mean a consumer’s return is fraudulent or abusive, only that the consumer’s return history at that retailer shows patterns often associated with such behavior. See below for instructions on contesting a denial that you believe to be in error.

How can I avoid getting a warning or having my return denied?

To reduce the likelihood of being warned or denied on a future return, consumers should consider the factors listed above and try to reduce their frequency of returns, reduce their return dollar amounts, and return within the retailer’s return time limits.

What information does TRE retrieve from consumers’ ID?

When TRE Return Authorization captures information from an ID, this is to ensure accurate consumer identification. The data that is captured and how it is collected varies by applicable regulations and retailer discretion.

Typically, this information includes:

  • Government issued identification number and expiration date
  • Name
  • Address
  • Date of birth
  • TRE does NOT collect or utilize gender, race, nationality, physical characteristics, marital status, or payment card information.
Where is consumer information kept?

Data collected by TRE is stored within state-of-the art, secure data centers located in the continental United States, the European Union, or in the Microsoft Azure cloud.

What factors does TRE Return Authorization use to determine if a retailer should accept a consumer’s return?

This varies from one retailer to the next. The factors that TRE may use for a given retailer include:

  • The frequency of returns at that retailer
  • Return value at that retailer
  • Whether the return at that retailer is receipted or non-receipted
  • Purchase history at that retailer

TRE does NOT use any of the following factors in evaluating returns:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Physical characteristics
  • Marital status
How can I find out if the TRE Return Authorization system has information on me?

You can contact TRE by following the instructions on home page. You can get:

  • Answers about your return data at that retailer.
  • A Return Activity Report (RAR) that shows all your return transactions at that retailer.
  • Instructions on filing an inquiry if the Return Activity Report contains errors.
What if my RAR is wrong?

Go to for information on how to contest any believed inaccuracies in your RAR.

Background on Return Fraud and Abuse

What is return fraud? What is return abuse?

Return fraud generally involves stealing or forgery. For example, a person might return stolen merchandise to make money, steal or falsify receipts to enable excessive returns, or use merchandise returns to convert bad checks to cash.

Return abuse involves purchasing merchandise without intending to keep it. An example is buying clothes, wearing them for Instagram photos, and then returning them.

How is return fraud and abuse hurting the economy?

Return fraud and abuse harms consumers and workers—not just retail companies. The US retail industry lost $25+ billion to return fraud in 2020. Retailers must increase their prices or reduce staff to cover those losses. In 2020, return fraud/abuse was equivalent to 741,300+ jobs and cost states a total of $1.1 billion to $1.4 billion in lost sales taxes.

More statistics are available in the “Consumer Returns in the Retail Industry” report issued in conjunction with the National Retail Federation.

Is receipted fraud a big problem?

Yes. We estimate that more than half of fraudulent returns involve some sort of counterfeit, “found,” or re-used receipts.

Benefits of The Retail Equation (TRE) Return Authorization

How is TRE Return Authorization helping consumers?

The system benefits consumers because it speeds up the return process and enables consistent and objective enforcement of return policies at each retailer. In addition, TRE helps retailers save money and reduce waste. Those savings can be passed on to consumers.

How does TRE Return Authorization help prevent discrimination?

TRE helps a retailer uniformly enforce their return policy to promote fairness and reduce return fraud.

Relationship Between TRE Return Authorization and Retailers

Do I have a right to make a return?

Please see the applicable retailer’s return policy for detailed rules and requirements for making a return or exchange at their store.

How can I know what the store’s return policies are and if they use TRE Return Authorization?

Retailers set their own return policies. They post their policies on signs in their stores and may also include them on receipts and on their websites. Retailers that use our service will disclose such in their privacy policy or notices.

Does the TRE Return Authorization system share consumer data among retailers?

No, the system does not share consumer data among retailers.

Will return activity affect my credit report?

No, TRE does not share data with any credit reporting agencies or similar organizations like potential creditors, employers, insurers, landlords, and government agencies.