Dearborn, Michigan man indicted for conspiracy, wire, and mail fraud for nearly $4 million refund fraud on U.S. retailers
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington
Operated “Simple Refunds” where participants pay a fee to get purchase price refunded by lying about status of merchandise
Seattle – A 25-year-old Dearborn, Michigan, man was arrested today on an indictment returned in the Western District of Washington for a fraud scheme damaging retailers across the country, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Tess M. Gorman. Sajed Al-Maarej allegedly operated “Simple Refunds” through the messaging service Telegram, where coconspirators were encouraged to purchase items from retailers Al-Maarej claimed he could defraud. Al-Maarej and his staff of “professional refunders” impersonated the purchaser and lied to the retailer about the status of the item to secure a refund for the purchaser, while permitting the purchaser to keep the ordered item. In Western Washington alone, one company lost $1.4 million to the fake refund scheme.
Al-Maarej appeared in U.S. District Court in Michigan today, but ultimately will need to appear in Western Washington on the indictment.
According to the indictment, between September 2020 and December 2022, Al-Maarej represented to prospective purchasers that they could buy high value goods and keep them, while falsely claiming to the merchant company that a refund was due. Purchasers provided Al-Maarej information about their purchase (order number, name, address, value) and for a cut of the refund, Al-Maarej and his coconspirators would seek a refund by making false representations. For example, Simple Refunds would claim the item had not been delivered; was irretrievably damaged; or would have the purchaser mail a box of garbage or junk back to the company – once the package was scanned at the shipping point the refund was issued before the box arrived back and the fraud was discovered. Al-Maarej recruited “insiders” at UPS and the US Postal Service who would input false scans into the order tracking history to make it appear items had been lost in shipping, stolen from the mail, or returned to the company.
The end goal was for the purchaser to keep the product and get their money back. The purchaser then paid Al-Maarej 15-25% of the purchase price as his fee.
Al-Maarej engaged in fraudulent refunding activity as well, requesting more than $1 million in refunds from retailers throughout the country. In one instance, Al-Maarej obtained a refund for bulky tools, but he returned to the retailer an envelope filled with plastic toy frogs. He claimed that he personally obtained more than $70,000 in refunds from a Western Washington-based retailer. Al-Maarej boasted about his personal refunding achievements on Simple Refunds to lend credibility to his scheme and attract customers.
The total value of the fraudulent refunds through Simple Refunds and Al-Maarej’s own conduct is approximately $3.9 million.
The Simple Refunds channel on Telegram amassed a following of more than 1,000 subscribers. Al-Maarej used a second channel to post information on successful refunds.
The indictment details how two Snohomish County residents ordered thousands of dollars of merchandise and conspired with Al-Maarej to get the payments refunded. Al-Maarej or others at his direction, allegedly impersonated the buyers, claimed the items had been “delivered not received” and got the purchase price refunded. The customers kept the items.
In May 2022, Al-Maarej deepened his fraud by allegedly offering a “mentorship” program where he would teach others to create their own refunding scams – he charged $6,000 for admission to the program. He boasted that students would “learn from the best in the game, from everything fraud related, to legit businesses and cleaning your money.”
As alleged in the indictment, Al-Maarej used interstate wires to communicate about the frauds with coconspirators. He is charged with four counts of wire fraud for his communications with Snohomish County coconspirators. He is charged with three counts of mail fraud for three instances of packages sent to Snohomish County addresses.
Conspiracy is punishable by up to five years in prison. Mail fraud and wire fraud are punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The investigation is open and ongoing with the possibility of additional charges against other defendants.
The case is being investigated by the FBI and the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS). The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Lauren Watts Staniar.
Press contact for the U.S. Attorney’s Office is Delaney Hewitt at (206) 553-7970 or Delaney.Hewitt@usdoj.gov
Updated September 27, 2023