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Are you a Thief? Most of us are...

Updated on July 28, 2012
Not all thieves look like this
Not all thieves look like this

There are some things that just stick in your mind. Tidbits of information that you retain clearly although you don’t consistently think about that thing. Oftentimes these are things that are useless facts or statistics or even movie quotes. For me, ever since I was a police officer in England, the definition of “theft” according to the law has stuck with me. It goes like this:

“A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it.”

We had to know that definition so that we could prove all the parts of it when putting together a case against an offender.

For example, did this person stealing the CD from the store have the intention of keeping it? Was it theirs to take or did it belong to another? Was what they took “property”?

See how it works?

I’m saying that to say this.

I believe that if we were all honest with ourselves we have all been guilty of theft at some point in our lives. Obviously asking a thief to be honest with himself is like asking a lion to play gently with the baby gazelle. It’s not instinctive. But in case you have already screamed to yourself in your head, “Not me!” I respectfully present these scenarios that I have encountered. You decide for yourself if you are guilty of any…. or all!

Some are clearly theft as per the definition whilst others don’t quite fit but are still evidence of dishonesty nonetheless…

1. "Borrowing" that pen from work...

So you use a pen at work in your little cubicle, or maybe some other office supply like paper, staples, post-it notes (the list is endless) and you come home with the item in your pocket “by mistake”. It could genuinely be a mistake but instead of taking it back, the item finds its way into the drawer in your kitchen or similar place and it gets put into your rotation of pens used at home by the family. It never makes its way back to its rightful owner – your employer. It’s just a pen after all. They won’t miss it. But it is still property belonging to another that you are given permission to use at work but when taken out of that environment has been appropriated by you and hence becomes theft.

2. The charity candy...

You’ve all seen the boxes of chocolate bars that are placed in businesses as a fundraiser for charities like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (M.A.D.D.) or Opportunities for the Disabled Foundation. They have tempting delicacies available for purchase and at the back of the box is an open envelope that says, “Please place your $2.00 in the envelope”. You don’t pay someone and you don’t have an option for change from a $5 bill. So, you fancy something sweet and you delve into your purse or change pocket and come up with $1.72 in change. What do you do? I mean, the chocolate bar only cost cents to buy and even at $1.72 they’ll still make money for the charity. If you put it in and take the candy, you have acted dishonestly. The cost of the chocolate is $2.00 and anything less is theft.

3. Wrong change...

You’ve trudged your way around the grocery store, hunting high and low for all the items on your list paying careful attention at what’s on sale to stretch your grocery allowance as far as it can go. Then you get to the checkout and pay cash. You grab the change from the cashier whilst loading your wares. When you get to your car and look at the fistful of change you were given you find that you were given too much. What do you do? If you pocket it and head on your merry way rejoicing in your good fortune, you have committed the crime.

4. Movie tickets...

It’s family night and you hit the local movie theatre. You go to pay and the cashier charges your teens as kids even though you know full well they are in the adult bracket and should be charged full adult price. You say nothing and enjoy the show, but is it with a clear conscience? Have you not been dishonest? Or maybe they didn't count the number in your party correctly and one of you wasn't charged at all? Do you tell them or do you spend the cash you "stole" on popcorn and pop?

5. Coupon misuse...

The coupon you got in the paper says $10 off a purchase over $40 with one time use, so you head to the store and select your purchase carefully making sure that it reaches that $40 threshold. You get to the checkout and the clerk rings you through and gives you the $10 off, but doesn’t take your coupon from you. So, thinking your luck is in, you return the next day and use the coupon to get $10 off another $40 purchase. Honest? Theft of $10?

6. Parking your car...

You get to the “pay and display” parking lot and know that you are only going to be a few minutes in the stores, so you decided to forego the ticket purchase and hurry through your shopping. After all the parking lot company won’t miss your little bit of cash in the big scheme of things. But did you not get a service from them by using their lot to park your vehicle? Isn’t there a fee for that service? Or maybe it's the parking meter on the street you don't feed?

7. Drive in movie...

The sign clearly says $10 per person to go to see the double show at the drive in movie theatre. If you can stash a couple of small friends in the trunk then the four in the car can pay $10 each but the two hidden can go in free. Then it works out at $40 divided between 6 which is $6.66 per person and you all save $3.34. Did you “save” the money or did you “steal” the money?

8. Wi-Fi signal...

So your neighbor has upgraded his Wi-Fi and you cannot afford to pay for any for yourself. You happen to be playing around on your computer and you detect your neighbor’s network, which he failed to secure. Bingo! You can finally get back on Facebook and update your status! What he doesn’t know doesn’t hurt him, but neither does it make it right or honest.

9. Border crossing...

You have gone across to the States from Canada and had a great day shopping, securing several bargains that were way cheaper than they would have been back home. You head back and get to the border where the Canadian Customs Officer, asks you the value of goods purchased that you are bringing back into Canada. Do you tell him about the 4 T-shirts, 3 pairs of socks, wristwatch, and running shoes you are now wearing? Isn’t it his job to do a search and find out what you are bringing back? Dishonesty is rife at the borders.

10. Disabled parking spot...

You get to the mall and there is nowhere to park but you’re only going to be a short while as you dash in to return that shirt. There is nobody using the disabled parking spot so you quickly pull in. Then you walk with a limp to the mall entrance just in case anyone is watching you so they think you have a justifiable reason to park there. The alternative is to park in the spot for mothers with infants when you don’t have any kids, or maybe you are a mother with infants but you don’t actually have your infant with you. Let’s face it these spots are there for a reason, and that reason is not to serve a dishonest person.

11. Cash on the ground...

People are very careless and often drop things. Those things include cash. As a result there are numerous occasions when we stumble across coins laying on the ground. What to do? What if it’s actually paper money and not just coins? Is there a difference? After all don’t they say, “Finders keepers, losers weepers”? On a side note, who are “they” anyway? Is it right to take the money and keep it for yourself. Shouldn’t you take all reasonable steps to try to find its owner? I still recall finding some paper cash on my paper route as a kid and my father took me to the police station where I handed it in. After a month the police let me keep it as nobody had claimed it. Technically, the cash you find is not yours, but the sad fact is if you don’t pick it up, someone else will.

12. Grapes at the grocery store...

You’ve all seen the mother walking through the fresh produce at the grocery store and “taste-testing” the fruit. Of course she’s doing it to ensure it’s good for her family. However, the fruit is all priced and anything you “test” is not included in the weight that you pay for. I don’t think there is any chance of the store every getting it back, so it’s theft. Small amounts add up over time. Are you one of the great grape thieves?

13. Returning a worn item...

So you have a big social event coming that you want to look your best at, but you can’t really afford a new outfit. No problem. Just go out and select an outfit and pay with your credit card. Then wear it without removing the tags, or at the very least keep your receipt. Then after the event you can return it for a refund. When they ask you your reason for returning it just say, “Oh, I wore it for my friend’s wedding/my graduation/a birthday party and I don’t need it anymore.” Yeah, right! No, what normally happens is you say that you got it home and it just didn’t fit right so you’re bringing it back. Honesty is out the window again. Maybe the reason it didn’t fit right is because that stupid tag was digging into your conscience!

14. BBQ pick up...

This is the one that really started all this off for me. You go to the large hardware store that has all the BBQs on display outside. You select the one you want. You grab a ticket and go inside to pay. You come back outside and load your BBQ in your vehicle. You drive away. According to the store, not everyone does that. Some people miss out step 3 entirely and simply drive up, load up and drive away. Or they pay for a cheap BBQ and take an expensive one when they go outside. The store even told me of one “customer” who got a staff member to assist him to load his BBQ that he hadn’t paid for! Not that you would ever do that, would you?

So, are you a thief?

So there you have several examples of where you might have been guilty of theft under the law, or at least guilty of social dishonesty. This is meant to be a thought provoking hub and not a criticism. I understand that there are times when the stores or our employers or life in general seems unfair to us, but that doesn’t make it right to be dishonest in return because we are “owed”.

There are genuine, legitimate thieves all around us. Just try not to be one of them!

Are you a thief?

In which area have you been dishonest most?

See results


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    • petenali profile image

      Pete 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @Jon Doe - hence my phrase, "Some are clearly theft as per the definition whilst others don’t quite fit but are still evidence of dishonesty nonetheless…" Thanks for reading though and commenting.

    • profile image

      Jon Doe 3 years ago

      Most of these don't fit with the definition that was given. “A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it.” #4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 13 do not involve permanently gaining property or depriving property from another.

    • alahiker28 profile image

      Vicki Parker 4 years ago from the Deep South

      I accidentally shop lifted a clothing item one time. I tried it on and left it on forgetting about it at the register. I actually went back to pay for it and the store wouldn't let me. Another time, I bought three 5 gallon buckets of roof repair. When I returned them, I learned to my horror the store had only charged me for 2 of them, yet they reimbursed me for all 3 despite my attempt to explain. Yeah, I guess I'm a thief too.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      So true and yet most people don't find themselves to be thieves if the acts you mentioned are acted on. Being honest with oneself is is so often not the case

    • profile image

      Sanxuary 5 years ago

      The number of low life thieves hardly relates to people who commit so called thief by mistake. 90 percent of shirk in any store is deliberate and no one is interested in stopping it. Keeping numbers poses a greater problem then marking it down and taking a loss. There is a billion dollar industry if they could convince someone to take there torn bags and bent boxes. Every day a million dollars hits the trash can because its not visually pleasing to the consumer. You low life employees should not worry about a pen or some stupid item the biggest thief is some CEO robbing you of a fair wage every day you work. I doubt if they care that the clothes that you wear our the same ones you work in. Every month your shoes wear out and they could careless. Until they care what it cost you to have a job the hell with them. I never said rob them but the last thing you need is any guilt for doing your job.

    • PurvisBobbi44 profile image

      PurvisBobbi44 5 years ago from Florida


      Very good hub and you are right most people become thieves without being aware of it. My worse thing was putting a rubber band around my wrist and coming home with it.

      Bobbi Purvis

    • petenali profile image

      Pete 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @Conservative Lady - the fact that you took reasonable steps to find an owner for the money tells me that your actions weren't entirely dishonest. We'll let you off with a slap on the Thanks for stopping by.

    • Conservative Lady profile image

      Sheila 5 years ago from Surprise Arizona - formerly resided in Washington State

      Well I started reading this Hub thinking I am not a thief but based on your outline I guess I am. I once found a hundred dollar bill on the grocery store floor. I asked the cashier if anyone had reported any lost money - she checked with the manager - no one had reported lost money so I did keep it....

    • petenali profile image

      Pete 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @Faith Reaper - the trouble is whether or not we can be honest with ourselves. I'm sure there are many other examples of every day dishonesty that would make us stop and consider our guilt. Thanks for the comment...

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 5 years ago from southern USA

      Yes, I believe if we were all very honest with ourselves, we would agree that each and everyone of us are theives, as you have given examples of a lot of the areas, when one really may think of it as stealing, but is it. Great hub, very thought-provoking. In His Love, Faith Reaper

    • petenali profile image

      Pete 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @innerspin - trust me, you are not alone. The question is will people be honest with themselves? Thanks for taking time to read...

    • innerspin profile image

      Kim Kennedy 5 years ago from uk

      Golly, it's so easy to be dishonest! What an interesting read. Hard to believe anyone would take clothes back after wearing them. I accidentally stole a toothbrush once. It fell through the mesh in my shopping basket, I picked it up from the floor and absent mindedly put it in my pocket. After getting home and finding it in my coat, I realised what had happened. I'm glad I didn't get caught!


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