Another Way That Dark Personalities Cheat The System

New research identifies the type of person who is likely to claim fraudulent refunds.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | March 4, 2022

A new study published in Personality and Individual Differences explores how abuse of refund policies of online food delivery services — i.e., falsely claiming a full refund for missing, damaged, or incorrect receipt of the original food — could be related to the personality traits of customers. However, the study notes that a dark personality is not the only reason for such fraudulent behavior.

I recently spoke with Mehmet A. Orhan, Professor at EM Normandie Business School in France, and Brian Collison, Professor at Azusa Pacific University, who are the lead authors of the research, to discuss their new research in detail. Here is a summary of our conversation.

What inspired you to investigate the topic of customers' dark triad traits predicting abuse of food refund policies and what did you find?

Based on past research, we already held evidence that dark personality traits could trigger unethical behavior. Therefore, we wanted to see if personality, specifically Dark Personality Triad, could predict fraudulent refund claims.

We collected data from 197 individuals through an online survey. Our results showed that 46% of consumers report abusing the refund policies of online food delivery services by falsely claiming an order was missing, damaged, or incorrect to receive both their original food order and a full refund. Some complaints even included that the meal received did not meet dietary requirements and so on. Apparently, there are some leniencies in the policies.

Predictably, opportunistic consumers with Dark Triad traits (i.e., narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy) tended to place more faulty claims, thus engaging in food refund fraud, and they perceived such behavior as more acceptable.

Can you describe briefly what all are included in dark personality traits and how you define them?

The dark triad refers to the three subclinical, or everyday, personality traits of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.

  • Narcissism refers to people with overly positive views about themselves; they tend to be vain, self-focused, charismatic, and entitled.
  • Psychopathy refers to people who act impulsively and without remorse; they tend to lack empathy and fail to take others' perspectives.
  • Machiavellianism refers to people who manipulate and deceive others for their own, self-benefit.

What according to your research leads people to get into food refund frauds?

Anybody could exploit the refund policies of a food delivery service by lying and saying their food was missing, damaged, or incorrect (when it was truly fine). We found that people with dark personality traits — who tend to be self-serving, callous, and lack remorse for their actions — are the most likely to engage in food refund fraud.

Other issues that create further incentives to engage in fraudulent behavior are:

  • Difficulty to prove the validity of claims
  • Perishability of goods (consumers are aware that they do not have to return items they complained about)
  • Relatively low or negligible cost of claims
  • Leniency in food refund policies

Did something unexpected emerge from your research? Something beyond the hypothesis?

Surprisingly, we found that people with dark personality traits were most likely to abuse food refund policies when they thought the cost to the food delivery company was high rather than low.

Do you have plans for follow-up research?

In our future research, we would like to understand whether exposure to such negative publicity and people's just world beliefs predict their fraudulent and opportunistic complaints in the form of revengeful acts.