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Is It Okay To Lie In Order To Get Amazon Discounts?

Amazon Boxes

Matthew Yglesias has stumbled across a way to get even bigger discounts at Amazon, and he wants to share it with the rest of us:

Amazon has a program called Amazon Mom that’s a pretty neat way to save some money on common household items. But here’s the thing. It turns out you don’t need to be a mom to sign up. You don’t need to be a dad, either. You just need to be a liar. Enrolling in Amazon Mom requires you to offer up some information about your baby, but there’s no verification involved whatsoever. You just type in some made-up stuff and suddenly your fake baby is getting you some sweet discounts.

Here’s the deal. Suppose you’re an Amazon Prime member. If you are, then you perhaps know about Subscribe & Save. With Subscribe & Save, you get a monthly delivery date, and you order various Subscribe & Save items to be scheduled for delivery to your house on a regular basis. That could be once a month, or once every two months, or once every three or four or five or six months. You just need a schedule. You save 5 percent on your Subscribe & Save items relative to the list price, due to the greater convenience for Amazon of scheduled deliveries and presumably due to their hope that you’ll overpurchase. Even better, on any month where you have at least five Subscribe & Save items coming to your house, you get a 15 percent discount. So right now I’m on various schedules for delivery of dried pasta, Zevia sodas (delicious if you’ve never tried them), counter spray, paper towels, toilet paper, laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, artificial sweetener, Kashi bars, tea bags, hand soap, dish soap, and beans.

(…)

But if you join Amazon Mom, those savings get kicked up a notch to 20 percent. And there’s no monthly fee and no extra commitment to buy stuff. You just need to tell Amazon some stuff about your baby—birthday and such—presumably so they can target you with baby-related offers. Except your baby can be fake. My baby, Tim Duncan Crawford, named after my wife’s favorite basketball player and given her surname, was born on December 14, 2013. Except he’s just a lie I created to get cheaper soap.

A quick perusal of the links that Yglesias provides indicates that it is indeed possible to sign up for this “Amazon Mom” program without actually being a Mom or a Dad simply by providing information about a child that may or may not exist. Amazon doesn’t appear to ask for any kind of verification that the child you’re claiming as your own actually exists, although outside of a partial Social Security Number (which few people would be willing to supply) or some other form of verification of a child’s existence. All that the Terms & Conditions of the program say about the matter is this:

Membership is available to parents and other persons responsible for caring for a baby or young child. To sign up for and use Amazon Mom, you must have an Amazon.com account, tell us if you are a Mom, Dad, Step-Parent, Family Member or other Caregiver and provide additional information about your family. We may accept or refuse membership in our sole discretion. The Amazon Mom membership is for personal use only and not for the purpose of reselling products or services. You may not transfer or assign your Amazon Mom membership or the benefits associated with an Amazon Mom membership. Only one Amazon Mom membership per household.

There don’t appear to be any penalties associated with misrepresenting the existence of a child set forth in the terms and conditions that Amazon has set forth here, although it does say that the company reserves the right to change the criteria at any time and to reject any application for any reason. Given that, it’s not clear to me that what Yglesias is suggesting here violates the contract that a user is effectively entered into when they sign up for the program. Indeed, Amazon may not care whether there really is a child or not because it’s obvious that one of the main purposes of the program is to give them a list of customer to whom they can potentially pitch baby and child-related products to via coupons, discounts, and announcements of special sales that only they would be eligible. Given that, it’s possible that they would be okay with the possibility that some portion of their “Amazon Mom” participants aren’t parents at all on the theory that, in the long run, they are going to make up the relatively minimal costs associated with the program via additional purchases. Additionally, if Amazon does have a problem with what Yglesias is suggesting, then they could easily change the terms and conditions of the program, or the manner in which one must verify one’s status as a caregiver for a child in order to crack down on the people who are falsely claiming to be parents to get additional discounts.

Leaving aside the terms and conditions of the program, though, I do have to wonder whether what Yglesias is suggesting here is ethical. Leaving aside potential liability under the Federal or State laws, what’s the difference between what he suggests and someone who falsely claims to be a military veteran in order to, say, get a free or discounted meal on Veterans Day at the many chain restraunts around the country that have been offering such a perk on Veterans Day, or claiming a Senior Citizens Discount to get a 10% of your purchase at a grocery store (although the store I regularly shop at requires someone to show ID to get that particular discount.)? For that matter, and again leaving aside for the sake of argument the legal issues associated with the activity, how is it different from a 20 year old who lies about being 21 in order to buy beer at 7-11?

I’ll throw these questions out to the Internet as a whole because I think the responses and ensuing discussion could get interesting. So. feel free to use to comment thread to let your opinions fly on this one, but, as always, let’s keep the discussion civil.

As an aside, I’ll also mention that there could be potential criminal and civil liability here related to making fraudulent claims in order to receive a benefit, but given that these laws vary from state to state I am not going to make any specific comments about the potential illegality of this behavior.

On a final note, now that Yglesias has admitted that Tim Duncan Crawford does not exist, I have to wonder how much longer Yglesias and his wife will be eligible for discounts as an “Amazon Mom/Dad.”

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tony W says:

    Well sure, if you have no ethics there are innumerable ways to beat the system. For example – reach into that tip jar when the cashier is not looking! Ask for donations for your fake child’s funeral. Pretend you are disabled and put out a tin cup.

    I learned more about Mr. Yglesias in this article than I did about Amazon.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  2. Tommy says:

    Although I am a world famous internet lawyer (Doug can vouch for my credentials) I won’t comment any legal issues. I’ll just say this: for me, lying to get a discount is the same thing as stealing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  3. HarvardLaw92 says:

    No, it’s what we in the legal profession (which includes you, Doug) refer to as fraud.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. Mu says:

    I’m sure you’re violating the ToS somewhere when providing false information. Which adventurous courts have deemed the equivalent of criminal hacking. Welcome to Leavenworth, scofflaw!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. PD Shaw says:

    I think people who committed food stamp fraud back in October should go to jail, and be forced to pay back the money they stole. But we know people who take an undeserved discount from Amazon are good people and they work hard for what they get.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  6. john personna says:

    I would draw the line at lying, but when I was younger I tended to take one night course, and get a student ID, so that I could get Apple computers at student prices.

    Some of my friends were outraged, they thought that I wasn’t really a student.

    So … you see where my line is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. ernieyeball says:

    Lies, dripping off your mouth like dirt

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMMDHUhSfpc

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. ernieyeball says:

    @john personna: So how much was your first Apple and what kind of friends were they that would begrudge you that discount?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  9. Pinky says:

    First off, of course it’s unethical.

    But secondly, to address Amazon’s strategy as raised in the article: if the company is trying to develop a list of people for targeted sales and marketing, then they care very much if they’re wasting the discount bonus on the wrong people. They’re not going to make up the discount on baby products if the subscribers don’t have children. And it sounds like the discount is 5%. I wouldn’t call that “minimal”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. john personna says:

    @ernieyeball:

    My first Apple was a 1984 Macintosh, IIRC $2400 (I can’t remember if that was with or without printer and second floppy drive).

    The thing I really don’t want to know is the value of the same purchase in 1984 apple stock!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. john personna says:

    (Actually that one was full retail, I think my 1986 Mac II (for like $4500) was with discount)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Franklin says:

    I’m not a big fan of lying, even to a big faceless company who probably sells my info to the highest bidder at every chance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  13. al-Ameda says:

    Of course what Matthew Yglesias is proposing (and doing) is flat-out unethical.

    Amazon probably does not care about all of these ethical lapses because they care most about making sales, and they’ve probably factored the “unethical discount” into their product and delivery pricing structure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  14. grumpy realist says:

    @john personna: Heck, I did that based on an over-the-web L.L.M. program I was enrolled in. (standard program, it just happened to be done totally remotely.)

    Interesting question is: what will happen when MOOCs get more popular and credentialized? Does that qualify one as a student for student rates?

    Making up a non-existent baby to falsely claim one is a parent is beyond what I’d feel comfortable with. Aside from any inherent ethical problems (i.e., fraud), there’s also the fact that there’s now an increased risk you’re going to be flooded with junk mail–paper and email– for “your child” for the next 18 years, up to and including the brochures from small desperate liberal arts colleges no one has ever heard of as soon as your putative child reaches 17. No thanks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. PD Shaw says:

    @al-Ameda: I suppose Matt’s line of defense here is that Amazon has to know, with almost 99.9% probability, that he doesn’t have kids, don’t they?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  16. ernieyeball says:

    @al-Ameda: Amazon probably does not care about all of these ethical lapses because they care most about making sales, and they’ve probably factored the “unethical discount” into their product and delivery pricing structure.

    So is this absolution for those who have misrepresented themselves?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. al-Ameda says:

    @ernieyeball:

    So is this absolution for those who have misrepresented themselves?

    No, it’s a downbeat rationalization of unethical behavior. Although I do believe that Amazon has accounted for this lying factor in their pricing structure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. ernieyeball says:

    @al-Ameda: Although I do believe that Amazon has accounted for this lying factor in their pricing structure.

    Is this common business practice or unique to Amazon?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @john personna: If you’re paying out of pocket for a single course each semester, and actively participating in that course, you’re a student.

    Then again, when I lived in Austin, I would take one one-credit Kinesiology course per semester (yoga, walking, whatever) for a double benefit. First, I do better with exercise when I have a structured routine, and second, as long as you pay for one credit, you qualify for a semester long Capital Metro pass. So for around $40 per month, I got scheduled exercise twice per week and a bus/rail pass to get around town.

    I call that frugal, not unethical.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. The headline is like a premise for an episode of a Seinfeld reboot (or, perhaps more accurately, of “Curb your Enthusiasm.)..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. PD Shaw says:

    @al-Ameda: Where this might get interesting for Matt is that by going quite public with what he’s doing, Amazon risks an increase in fraudulent enrollments that might jeopardize continuation of the program.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. MarkedMan says:

    Unethical. And yes, it does tell us something important about Yglesias’ character.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. RWB says:

    One of the security bills signed since 911, I don’t recall which, makes unauthorized access to a computer a felony and it has been interpreted that violation the terms of service is unauthorized access. So, for instance, establishing an account on a site that requires your real name under a phony name is a felony. I think there was some discussion in congress about modifying such a severe interpretation after the Aaron Schwartz affair, but I do not think anything concrete has occurred. If Amazon’s terms of service require truth, then falsely claiming to be a mom is a felony punishable by ( I think it was ) 15 years in prison.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  24. Scott says:

    Some of the reactions seem pretty hardcore. So I started thinking of the ways I secured discounts for me or others. Bought stuff at Home Depot and Lowes for neighbors for the 10% veterans discount. Allowed adult son access to netflix account. Kept same son on family cell phone plan. Underage ID to get into bars. Used student status to get cheaper magazines. I’m sure there’s more. BTW, Amazon also has a plan similar to prime for students. Sorry, I don’t feel particularly guilty over any of it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  25. Davebo says:

    @Scott:

    Gotta agree. This place is dripping with righteous indignation over some so trivial as to be beyond silly.

    My Linked-in image is over 5 years old. Does that make me a fraud?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. PJ says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Unethical. And yes, it does tell us something important about Yglesias’ character.

    What it says is that that he never cared about getting the extra discount. If he had, then he would have shut up about it. Because, as Doug points out, he’s most likely going to lose it now. Less than a week after the “birth” of Tim Duncan Crawford…
    What’s more probable is that he dislikes a discount only given to people in care of a baby. What he’s doing here is telling people how to get that discount, but, in doing so, he won’t be getting it himself.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  27. jd says:

    Wow. Aren’t we all righteous-like? Amazon saves by batching deliveries. They pass the savings on to you. There is no baby.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    For me, as an old timer in the wholesale and retail businesses in a past life, what is more inteeresting is whether the “discount” actually represents a reduced price for the commodity or a discount on a more expensive product that the person might not buy without the discount. Don’t live in the US and can’t shop Amazon.com very easily where I do live, but my experience has been that most of what Amazon sells is stuff for which I am not particularly interested in paying what they want to charge. A similar phenomenon happens when a person is a “member” of Costco or Sam’s Club. The membership tends to freeze the buyer out of other shopping venues and in these cases, the membership only pays for itself on years that the person buys a high ticket item.

    Even at that, I bought my last computer for $50 less than what I would have paid at Costco for a net savings of $85 when I consider that I didn’t need to buy the membership to get the discount.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. Rob in CT says:

    Is it ok to lie…

    No, unless in doing so you prevent serious harm to others (e.g. the famous would you lie to the Nazis example). Or, ok, fibbing to your kid about Santa Claus. Something not done for your own material gain. This? Nope.

    Ygelsias is a glib schmuck. A glib schmuck who is sorta-kinda on “my side” but a glib schmuck nonetheless.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. Jack says:

    Or you could just claim you are a politician.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. James Joyner says:

    Interestingly, as someone who’s actually eligible for the product, I attempted to sign up for it only to find out that:

    1) I’m already a member. My late wife signed us up for it a year before she died.

    2) It’s of no value to me:

    With your current Amazon Prime membership you get all the benefits of Amazon Mom, for free.
    20% off diapers and wipes subscriptions
    Exclusive discounts and deals for Amazon Mom members
    Plus your Amazon Prime benefits

    Presumably, Yglesias is a Prime member, too. So . . . . he’s not actually deriving any benefit from the scam.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  32. merl says:

    My wife is 64 years old and gets the senior discount at IHOP, I guess they assume that I’m old enough to get it because they give it to me every time. I just accept it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0