||The examples and perspective in this deal primarily with North America and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (January 2014)|
A straw purchase or nominee purchase is any purchase wherein an agent agrees to acquire a good or service for someone who is unable or unwilling to purchase the good or service himself, and the agent transfers the goods/services to that person after purchasing them. Straw purchases are legal except in cases where the ultimate receiver of goods or services uses those goods or services in the commission of a crime with the prior knowledge of the straw purchaser, or if (depending on recent rulings of the USSC) the ultimate possessor is not legally able to purchase the goods/services.
Recently, in July 2014, the Supreme Court decided Abramski v. United States (No.12-1493). In Abramski, the Court held that a straw purchaser can be convicted under 18 U. S. C. §922(a)(6) for making false statements about “any fact material to the lawfulness of the sale” of a firearm, regardless of whether or not the true buyer could have purchased the gun without the straw. For an analysis of the opinion see this SCOTUSblog post.
In some cases, the agent in the straw purchase may receive money or recompense from the ultimate possessor.
Examples of legal uses
Examples of legal straw purchases would be purchasing an automobile for another who cannot purchase it himself because of poor credit or purchasing groceries for a senior citizen, who is unable to go to a supermarket oneself because of poor health. Obtaining loans through a straw buyer is legal except when the agent and ultimate user of the funds defraud the lender or foreseeable ultimate lender (such as by signing false mortgage documents designed to be mingled with other mortgages and securitized) or when the loan terms expressly prohibit use of an agent to obtain funds.
When made at a federally licensed firearm dealership, straw purchases can be illegal in the United States. A straw purchaser of a firearm who lies about the identity of the ultimate possessor of the gun can be charged with making false statements on a federal Firearms Transaction Record. If a firearm is purchased as a gift, the transaction is not a straw purchase, and the person buying the gift is considered the end user. Straw purchases made outside of federally regulated dealerships are legal unless the gun is used in a crime with the prior knowledge of the straw purchaser. 
Straw purchases of alcohol are illegal in most jurisdictions when a person under the legal drinking age requests that a person above the legal age purchase alcohol for the underage person, and the straw purchaser knows or might reasonably assume based on the circumstances that the person is under the legal age.
In some cases, use of a strawperson to obtain loan funds is illegal. In May 2010, the Bank of Montreal sued hundreds of people, including Federal Conservative MP Devinder Shory, for allegedly being involved in a mortgage fraud in which the bank lost $30 million. The bank alleged that straw buyers, in exchange for a cash payment, applied for mortgage loans in the Calgary area on behalf of other parties and knew before submitting the applications that the loans would not be paid. The lawsuits were settled out of court.
In United States v. Quintero-Lopez, two men were charged with locating eight straw purchasers for homes and helping the straw purchasers falsify pay history documents in order to obtain $8.3 million in mortgage loans. The government alleged these loan purchases were illegal because the straw purchasers inflated their incomes as part of an attempt to defraud the lenders. In 2011, one of the two straw purchaser recruiters was sentenced to six years in prison and the other was sentenced to one year of probation. Straw or nominee purchases of mortgage loans are legal when intent to defraud is not present.
- "ATF P 5300.4 - Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide 2005 General Information discusses "straw purchase" on p. 165 (application/pdf Object)". www.atf.gov. Retrieved 2010-05-16.
- "CBC News - Calgary - MP Shory accused in giant mortgage fraud". cbc.ca. 2010-05-05. Retrieved 2010-05-16.
- "'Straw buyer' seduced into mortgage scheme". cbc.ca. 2010-05-06. Retrieved 2010-05-16.
- Bell, Alexis (2010). Mortgage Fraud & the Illegal Property Flipping Scheme: A Case Study of United States v. Quintero-Lopez.