Theft or scrupulosity?

The scenario - Part I:

Wal-Mart sells umbrellas. Every year new fabric colors come out, but the UPC code and price stays the same for the same manufacturer, size, and design. The previous year’s Totes umbrella colors and prints were pretty hideous, but they did have covers.

This year’s colors and prints are much more sedate, but the covers were discontinued.

Joe needs an umbrella. He needs one with a cover because when it’s not raining he stores it next to his car seat, and the one he is replacing got ripped by the metal under the seat. Joe wears a business suit to work, so hideous colors and prints are not a good choice.

Joe likes the style and design of this year’s Totes umbrellas. But he pauses to look at one left over from last year with the cover. Since the UPC code and price are the same, with or without the cover, he takes a cover from an older totes umbrella hanging next to his selection then purchases the umbrella.

Theft or scrupulosity?

Part II:

As frequently happens, several of the umbrellas have had their covers removed and been opened. The store clerk who neatly re-closed the umbrellas made sure that every Totes cover went onto a Totes umbrella, but didn’t worry very much about matching up colors.

It’s clear to Joe that there are more Totes umbrellas than Totes covers, and some of the Totes covers are on the wrong Totes umbrella (the colors don’t match). But it’s hard to say which umbrellas the black covers originally belonged to.

Joe selects a blue and black Totes umbrella that doesn’t have a cover. It’s the only blue and black one left. Next to it are several pink and yellow Totes umbrellas. Some of the pink and yellow umbrellas have pink covers, one has a black cover, and the rest have no covers. Joe removes the black cover from the pink and yellow umbrella, puts it on the blue and black umbrella, and proceeds to the cashier.

As before, all the Totes umbrellas of that size and design have the same UPC code and price.

Theft or scrupulosity?

It bothers me that Joe did this, but he reminded me that except for the cover and the colors, both umbrellas were exactly the same in every material way, including price and UPC code. So he doesn’t feel he did anything wrong.

I would have to lean towards calling it dishonest. He should have either spoken to someone at the store or bought one of the umbrellas that did have a cover. I suspect that he may have doubts about his action since he feels the need to defend and justify it. The measure of whether the action is moral is not whether the “victim” loses money. It is about whether one’s actions are in accord with God’s will.

Ask for assistance and the store manager will tell you what you may and may not do vis-a-vis umbrellas and covers.

Thank you.

As I said, Joe is not troubled by what he did, but it seemed wrong to me. At the very least it was unethical. An action is not right simply because there is no discernible victim.

The pink and yellow umbrellas would not have a black cover, the black umbrella would. He obviously placed the right cover on the right umbrella before purchasing. No harm, no foul.

I’d go with Faces on this. But if Wal*Marts are the same where you are, he likely could have taken the umbrella up to Customer Service and probably got the clerk’s okay and all the piece of mind that would entail.

There was nothing wrong here. He purchased the item with the same price. Combining it with another article that was in the same price range is just helping to make it a sale. There was no theft here.

He should have spoken to customer svc. Changing the covers could have an effect on the saleability of the other umbrellas if the covers don’t match.

I worked in retail and we had people do this sort of thing all the time, and it DID have an effect on the saleability of certain items later when the pieces didn’t match. There were situations in which we could allow it, and others where we could not.

It is not up to the customer to make this decision without speaking to a store worker.

It’s not outright theft, but perhaps falls under the category of vandalism, as it may lower the value of the item.

Both of the examples that you have presented here are a crime called “false pretenses” the fact that Joe didn’t think what he was doing wasn’t wrong is irrelevant because what it counts is that he had an intent to deceive. Also the fact that prices are the same is irrelevant because what it count here is that he is mmisrepresenting an existing fact, he knows it, he had the intent to misrepresent and that the store is relying on his misrepresentation. What Joe did is not only dishonet morally speaking but a crime. The right thing to do under this circumstances is to look for a store associate and explain to the associate what he wanted. Had the store discovered what Joe did they could have pressed charges against him.

As I just mention, forget about ethics, it was a crime. He just lucked out that he didn’t get caught. People do this kind of things frequently and what happens is that it is hard for stores to catch them all but when they do, don’t doubt they will press charges against the person.

Here is an example that might clarify the errors in Jim’s thinking.

Carol goes to the shoe store. She, like many people, have two different sized feet. She takes one 8.5 shoe and one 8.0 shoe. Why would this be wrong? She pays for a pair, she gets just a pair. What’s wrong with that?

Now I know the problem in this example is more obvious. The store will have a problem selling that pair of orphaned shoes created by Carol, but isn’t that the point? As schaeffer said, the store does suffer from these sorts of behaviors. In fact, shoe stores routinely check to make sure purchasers have shoes with matching sizes when they check out.

Thank you all again.

Joe got upset with me for objecting to what he did, saying I was making a big deal out of a non-issue. It’s good to know I have support for my objection.

If the prices are all the same, there is no theft.

As far as making something unmatched and later hard to sell, that didn’t happen. Unmatched shoes is a totally different thing.

This unbrella was simply without a cover. And as it sometimes happens, a shoe may be missing a shoelace. Why would a person think that a pair of shoes are being sold missing a shoelace. So Joe sees unbrellas, missing a cover. What is the first thought that comes to mind. Some of these umbrellas are missing covers. The idea of wrong would never occur to me in this situation.

If the circumstances are changed to make it an obvious elephant problem, then it is not this situation.

However I have to say, if a person’s conscience bothers them, then they should follow the dictates of their own conscience.

I agree with your position on the unmatched shoes. Chances of finding another customer who needs that exact same strange size combination are pretty small, so the store (or whoever the store returns items to) winds up taking a loss on the mismatched pair.

The umbrella cover situation is quite a bit less certain. The umbrella that Joe took the cover from gets sold alongside all the other umbrellas that never had covers, so the store takes no loss.

What it comes down to, I think, is that Joe intentionally did something he wasn’t authorized to do (repackaged the store’s merchandise to suit his own pleasure) and didn’t feel he needed to get anyone’s approval to do so. He rationalized his action by saying, “No harm - no foul.” But his action shows an inherent lack of respect for the rights of others. And it makes me wonder what else Joe has done or would do without authorization, just because he has the opportunity and wants to satisfy his own desire.

I appreciate what you are saying, but then I wouldn’t see it as repackaging. And if the store manager were standing right there beside me, I would do it right in front of him and feel warm and fuzzy about it.

But like I said before, if anyone’s conscience says otherwise, they must follow their conscience.

May God bless and keep you. May God’s face shine on you. May God be kind to you and give you peace.

As I said before, this situation has nothing to do with theft or even repackaging issues. It is crime called false pretenses. You can do it if your conscious says there is nothing wrong. Just don’t be surprised if the manager sees you and then the store files criminal charges against you.

The part II of the OP brought up the fact that other umbrellas and covers didn’t match, suggesting that other shoppers had changed covers as well, and perhaps even workers had not bothered to correctly match covers to umbrellas.

Even if those things are true, that doesn’t make it “ok” or honest for this shopper to follow suit. Precedence of prior wrongdoing doesn’t make this OK. He was messing with property that belonged to another, without permission.

Even if he can reason that he’s paying for it, that others have mismatched colors, etc etc, it’s not his property and it’s not his call.

I haven’t been ignoring your answer and I’m not disputing it. In fact I’m thinking about it seriously.

Can you tell me: what led you to this answer? Do you work in retail or law enforcement or in criminal court, and if so have you been involved in the prosecution of cases for False Pretenses? How often does a miscreant get charged and convicted with False Pretenses as opposed to being charged with Shoplifting?

I hear a lot about prosecution for Shoplifting. I seldom hear about False Pretenses (but that could be because I prefer to associate with honest people).

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