Illustration by Dominic Byrne.
In the back seat of a Range Rover parked behind McDonalds, a friend of mine opens Photoshop and edits the date on a receipt. An order from mid-November now took place yesterday. He tells me it probably seems like a lot of effort but when you compare the price of a meal to an hourly wage, he’s doing alright.
This is the most involved version of the scam. Mostly he just calls up angry and says his food was undercooked and they’ll throw coupons at him to make it go away. Usually though, they’re warier—falling profits necessitate it—and they’ll cycle through yesterday’s orders to see whether what he’s claiming to have bought actually exists. His order, large Big Mac meal with Coke, usually comes up.
When he’s done editing the receipt, he zooms out to show me the work. The whole image is roughly A4 and of a receipt sitting on a scanner. In the corner, the receipt goes dark where it wasn’t quite pressed flat against the scanner bed—a contrived imperfection to make the thing seem more sincere. To now, I can’t recall seeing anyone use the power outlet built into their car, but my friend does, stepping out and around to the back of the car to plug his laptop into a printer in the boot, and the printer into the power outlet, which is linked to an inverter that converts car juice to the kind appliances eat.
My friend (to his credit in this line of work) looks superlatively nondescript. He is of average build, with median blonde hair and no identifying features whatsoever. To look at him straight is like catching someone from the corner of your eye. I almost mistake him for someone else when he returns with a pair of brown paper bags. One’s his order, and the other—paid for with apology coupons—is a cheeseburger for me. This is, in his words, “a gateway kind of lie”.
We drive for a while and, on arriving at his apartment block, I realise I’m lost. He still insists on hiding me in the communal laundry room so I can’t precisely identify his residence within the sprawling red brick building. He locks the door to keep me in there while he goes upstairs. Along the back wall of the laundry room are a line of power outlets, each individually protected by a metal cover marked with each apartment’s number and a bracket for people to padlock them with, presumably so each apartment’s use of the washer/dryer can be indexed against their electricity bill. The outlet marked 4 is the most strongly locked, the metal most rusted and the cover seemingly immobile. Without knowing, I feel that it’s his. Figures he piggybacks off other peoples’ electricity as well.
When he returns, he’s got a hard-plastic case—the kind you store cameras in—and inside, a line of wearable fitness devices and other tech peripherals. He tells me he hasn’t paid for them, duh, while peering through the louvered slats of the laundry room window, like he’s afraid of being overhead despite my standing there Physically Taking Notes.
He contacts the companies online through their twenty-four hour chat systems—never through email—and claims fault that falls within the company’s No Questions Asked repair guidelines. Usually, they’ll ask for a receipt, which he’ll either fake or say he doesn’t have in a format he can email, and will instead propose sending it in with the product. They ask him to mail his ‘broken’ item in for repair.
The next part requires access to dry ice and knowledge of the postal system. My friend finds out how much the product weighs and then places that same weight of dry ice in a postal box. He also “beats the shit out of the box” a bit too. Last thing before close of business at the end of the week, he takes the package to the post office. They’ll weigh the package—“ah, that comes in at… 400 grams?”—and deposit it for post the next week. Over the weekend, the dry ice will evaporate, leaving an empty box, and the receivers on the other end will assume that someone along the way has stolen the product. Why wouldn’t they? The sticker on the box (which, come to think of it, looks like it’s had the shit beaten out of it) says it was weighed in at 400 grams.
“Don’t try it on [company name redacted by SRC legal],” he interjects. “No company is more vicious when it comes to chasing up these kinds of scams.”
The demonstrated concluded, he locks the case and returns it upstairs, before taking me back out. We drive down to the beach—mostly because he wants to show off—and when we stop, I have to justify the recording device I’ve now placed in sight on the dashboard. Why do you do it? “Because fuck paying full price.” Does this kind of theft actually force producers to increase their products’ cost? “I read somewhere that companies incorporate ‘spillage’ into their prices, so if I don’t do it, they’re getting money for free.” Is there anything else you want to say? “Just that if I come off sounding petty, it’s because I’ve been misquoted.”
 In a way that sounds rehearsed. I’m also suspicious about the cost: printer ink is more expensive per litre than crude oil, but when each receipt has a dollar value of ~$13, I suppose he is net-better-off.
 You have to be mobile with this kind of lie. Each franchisee fields hundreds of these calls a week, but not enough to forget an individual’s particular timbre of (faux) rage. He’s got an Excel spreadsheet in which he keeps track of the stores—McDonalds, KFC, Hungry Jacks, etc—the locations—Inner West, Eastern Suburbs, etc—and the date he’s last been there—obvious. (a. There are enough of these places to cycle through [i. health benefits, nebulous]). The travel costs are incalculable, and their relationship to the savings he’s making are indeterminate. I’m cloudy on the whole economic relationship between his everyday life and this one, and when I ask him about it he says it’s “not about the money.”
 The printer is by no means expensive. It’s thin like a flatbed scanner and loads sheet-by-sheet into the back, sputtering them out inch by inch, leaving ink smears and divots where the paper’s been bent through the spools.
 I am limited by publishing laws with respect to being more specific.
 He tells me you can download small programs that generate numbers consistent with the serials attached to certain products, and use these numbers to fake like you own something.
 The price of dry ice necessitates going for smaller products, but their price points are high enough to justify the expense, especially for resellers.
 I googled this, it’s from John Safran’s 1998 single “Not The Sunscreen Song”.